States lack enforcement of school physical activity policies

September 4, 2013 9:00 AM

Naomi King Englar

Many states are creating but not enforcing physical activity policies in schools, according to new findings from a multi-university research group that includes the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University.

Green Charter School Zack Smith

Children play outdoors at Samuel J. Green Charter School in uptown New Orleans. (Photo by Zack Smith for the Tulane Prevention Research Center)

Researchers interviewed 24 knowledgeable people from state-level organizations in nine different states, including Louisiana. The interviews mostly involved officials from state departments of education with some representatives from state boards of education, state health departments and advocacy organizations focused on physical activity and recreation.

“We wanted to know what was happening after physical education policies were created. We know these policies can improve physical activity levels of students and promote their health,” says Jeanette Gustat, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology in the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and an author on the paper from the Physical Activity Policy Research Network.

Through the interviews, researchers learned that states are limited in their enforcement of physical activity policies, instead taking more of a role in helping implement policies, such as providing information through webinars and websites and training school personnel.

Many states relied on reviewing documents and self-reported compliance from schools to monitor how policies were being followed. Four states reported collecting health assessments from schools through existing tools that aided in evaluating the impact of physical activity policies.

But, in general, states reported that lack of funding and staff has led to limited enforcement and consequences when policies aren’t followed.

The study titled “Roles and Strategies of State Organizations Related to School-Based Physical Education and Physical Activity Policies” was published in the May/June supplement of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

Naomi King Englar is the communications and training coordinator for the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University and the Maternal and Child Health Leadership Training Program.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu