State High School Physical Education Requirements, Exercise, and Body Weight
requirements are largely ineffective at reducing youth body weight. However, these studies have been forced to rely on cross-state variation in PE requirements to identify their impacts, raising concerns that estimated policy effects may be confounded by state-level unobservables.
Using newly collected data from the State and National Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) and exploiting recent changes in state high school PE laws, we re-examine the effect of PE requirements on body weight. Our estimates show that a one-semester increase in PE requirements is associated with a 10 to 13 percent increase in minutes per week spent physically active in PE classes, but with no change in net vigorous exercise and little effect on youth body weight. We conclude that (i) substitution of in-school for outside-of-school physical activity, (ii) small resultant net energy expenditures, and (iii) compensatory eating behavior, can explain the absence of body weight effects.