School-related policies and therefore much potential school-based change are primarily controlled at the state and local levels. While the Let’s Move campaign helped raise awareness of child inactivity & unhealthy nutrition nationwide in the 2010s, and the USDA did raise school meal standards throughout the country starting in 2012-13, child health has continued to worsen.
We need to focus more on advocacy at lower levels of government & society—not federal & national.
We have barely used many of the most effective policy strategies, which helped reduce smoking from 42% of adults in the 1960s to less than 14% today. Many of these policies can be implemented at state, county or even local levels, and do not require hard-to-achieve and often widely-resisted federal intervention:
School policies are supposed to be evidence-based, both in academics and in other areas. But when it comes to physical & health education and recess, schools are not honoring their own insistence on evidence. Research in recent decades proves that:
Our policy work to-date has focused on:
School Recess Law
Recess is a long-neglected, no-cost way to increase student physical activity and social-emotional development & wellness, while also improving student engagement & achievement. It is absurd, yet a sad fact, that most elementary and middle school students have only one brief recess in a 6-7 hour school day. And many of those same students only have PE for 30-45 minutes each week…if that. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC considers recess a critical part of the school day—yet in many states & schools, only a lunch recess remains, compared to 2-3 per day in the past.
We co-led Arizona’s adoption of a national breakthrough recess law in 2018, together with the parent-led Arizonans for Recess & School Wellness. We worked with Arizona Health & Physical Education, Arizona Public Health Association, Arizona Education Association and many others. This law is increasing physical activity by approximately 50% for 250,000 K-5 students in Arizona.
We are also advocating against counterproductive practices, such as withholding recess if students misbehave or do not complete their homework.
Please visit our partner Arizonans for Recess & School Wellness for much more information on recess.
A-F School Accountability for Health
In recent decades, increasing school accountability for reading, writing and math, as measured by standardized test scores, has had major negative unintended consequences. Schools slashed physical & health education, arts ed, and recess, in order to increase seat-time for test prep. This happened at the same time as screen- and seat-time were increasing at home and physical activity decreasing.
Thanks to our advocacy, the Arizona State Board of Education approved a resolution in May 2017 to add physical, health & arts education indicators to the state A-F school grading accountability formula, by which each public school is graded A, B, C, D or F. School leaders across the state have confirmed that being able to increase their school’s state-awarded grade by restoring quality physical & health education, will create a significant incentive to invest the school time and resources needed to improve student health. Healthy Future US is working with the association of physical & health educators and others to develop the evaluation system needed to implement this in all schools statewide.
An additional step would be to develop an even broader Whole-Child School Report Card for each school, with an even wider range of metrics. This would provide a more well-rounded, balanced picture of school quality for parents and policy-makers than the current narrow focus on reading, writing & math test scores.
60 Minutes Daily Physical Activity for Health
The National Academy of Sciences has concluded that children need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily to be healthy. Yet schools are often providing only 15-20 minutes per day—followed by hours of “screen-time” sitting at home. As the Arizona Department of Education declared, “schools are the only setting where all students can engage in physical activity during the day, making them a critical environment for providing and promoting physical activity.”
Here is a proven example (based on Let’s Move Active Schools) of how we can get to 60 minutes of daily physical activity at school, even with less-than-ideal PE and recess time:
However, school leaders are very resistant to “unfunded mandates”—for example, requiring 60 minutes of daily physical activity at school, without funding more time at school to implement this. So adequate sustainable funding is essential.
See Healthy Students Healthy State for information on how we will get much more money into school for school health and prevention.