Monica A. F. Lounsbery, Kathryn A. Holt, Shannon A. Monnat, Thomas L. McKenzie, and Brian Funk - Physical inactivity is receiving growing attention given its documented relationship to a variety of chronic health (Strong et al., 2005) and metabolic challenges (Owen, Healy, Matthews, & Dunstan, 2010) and the fact that most adults and children do not meet physical activity guidelines (Troiano et al., 2008; USDHHS, 2008). For over two decades, the importance of schools in providing and promoting physical activity has been consistently emphasized (Institute of Medicine, 2013; Pate et al., 2008), but with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001, school physical activity programs, including physical education (PE), have instead sustained reduced time and resource allocations (McKenzie & Lounsbery, 2009).
PE is a primary strategy because it (a) is institutionalized as part of the K-12 curriculum and as such, has the potential to reach nearly all students, (b) is the only program where the least active children can experience physical activity at higher intensities, and has the potential to significantly contribute to daily accrual of moderate to vigorous physical activity, increase fitness, develop and improve motor and other generalizable skills. Though PE is a key evidence-based strategy for providing and promoting physical activity (Institute of Medicine, 2013; Ward, 2011) and a goal of Healthy People 2020 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010) there are many practice and policy barriers to its effective delivery; thus, its potential to impact health has not been fully realized (McKenzie & Lounsbery, 2009). Among these policy barriers is the pervasive practice of allowing waivers/exemptions and/or substitutions for physical education. This includes allowing alternative programs such as JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer’s Reserve Corps), interscholastic sports, marching band, cheerleading, and community sports to substitute for PE enrollment (NASPE, 2012), a practice which has been of great concern to the profession (Abernathy, 1960; NASPE, 2006; Sims, 2011) and public health officials (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011) for many years.