State High School Physical Education Requirements, Exercise, and Body Weight

Wednesday, June 15, 2016: 10:35 AM
B26 (Stiteler Hall)

Author(s): Joseph Sabia; Thanh Tam Nguyen

Discussant: Susan Averett

Previous research has found that high school physical education (PE)
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.