The Impact of State Physical Education Requirements on Youth Physical Activity and Overweight

John Cawley, Chad D. Meyerhoefer, David Newhouse

NBER Working Paper No. 11411
Issued in June 2005
NBER Program(s):Health Economics

To combat childhood overweight, which has risen dramatically in the past three decades, many medical and public health organizations have called for students to spend more time in physical education (PE) classes. This paper is the first to exploit state PE requirements as quasi-natural experiments in order to estimate the causal impact of PE on student activity and weight. We study nationwide data from the YRBSS for 1999, 2001, and 2003 merged with data on state minimum PE requirements from the 1994 and 2000 School Health Policies and Programs Study and the 2001 Shape of the Nation Report.

We find that certain state regulations are effective in raising the number of minutes during which students are active in PE. Our results also indicate that additional PE time raises the number of days per week that students report having exercised or engaged in strength-building activities, but lowers the number of days in which students report light physical activity. PE time has no detectable impact on youth BMI or the probability that a student is overweight. We conclude that while raising PE requirements may make students more active by some (but not all) measures, there is not yet the scientific base to declare raising PE requirements an anti-obesity initiative.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w11411

Published: Cawley, John, Chad Meyerhoefer, and David Newhouse. "The Impact of State Physical Education Requirements on Youth Physical Activity and Overweight." Health Economics, December 2007, 16(12): 1287-1301. citation courtesy of

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