SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - For Ethan Hull, assistant professor of physical and health education at Slippery Rock University, and his undergraduate student researchers, the conclusion is as clear as a push-up: Taking physical education in school appears to lead to increased physical activity outside of school.
Hull and his student research assistants, Elizabeth Kolodziejczak from Hammondsport, N.Y., and Yevonne Carlson, from Smethport, both SRU physical and health education majors, are exploring the question: "Physical Education and Physical Activity: Is There A Link?"
Their first round conclusion is "Yes."
Hull said, "Physical education, or 'PE,' is the only subject in school where physical activity is taught with an emphasis on sport and skill development. So we looked at more than 200 children and found those who took PE classes were more likely to be involved in organized physical activity outside of school and be classified as 'active' compared with children who did not take PE class."
Hull, who was involved in the original Pittsburgh Physical Activity Study, which collected data on some 1,200 Pittsburgh-region residents over a 17-year period beginning in the early-1990s by tracking their physical activity levels, said, "That tracking ended in the mid-2000s, but we thought the data might reveal answers to our research questions. So my researchers and I kind of re-activated the study by contacting those involved in the original research and asking if they had a child or children between the ages of 4 and 18, when the child would typically be enrolled in school. We asked them to participate in our follow-up study by providing information about their child's physical activity levels."
Hull said the researchers asked a number of questions within the questionnaire that double-checked the parent's responses, such as first asking how they would rate their child's activity level - "sedentary," "moderately active" or "active." "We provided a definition for each category," he said.
"We later asked them to rate the time their child was physically active, by minutes per hour, per day or by the week, and how much time they spent playing video games and watching television, then correlated the responses," he said. "At the time, we found the parents to be our best proxy measure of the child's activity levels."
"We had initially thought that if a child was engaged in physical education during their school day, they might be tired and less likely to be active outside of school. Conversely, our competing hypothesis was that since PE is designed to help children become more active by teaching them skills and confidence in movement activities, they might be more likely to be active outside of school. Our data showed that nearly 66 percent of students who took physical education classes were also involved in organized physical activity outside of school, compared with only 45 percent of children who did not take physical education classes. Furthermore, those children who took PE were more likely to be classified as "active." and less likely to be "sedentary" outside of school. Perhaps just as interesting a finding was that parents encouraged their children to be active at a greater level if their child took PE, compared with parents of children who were not enrolled in PE. What this suggests is that if a child shows skill and confidence in movement, parents are more likely to play with, encourage, transport and teach that child to be active; which is beneficial for the child and parent on a number of levels," Hull said.
"We were pleasantly surprised by the results, but more importantly, we want those involved in planning and implementing physical education classes to know and recognize the importance of PE in school," he said.
The three researchers were among those presenting this week at Slippery Rock University's annual Symposium for Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement hosted in the Smith Student Center.
More than 200 students and faculty were involved in symposium presentations. The event showcased significant examples of student-faculty collaboration, emblematic of the innovative teaching and learning that is taking place at SRU, according to symposium organizers.
Hull said the SRU symposium "was the first public presentation of our results, but we hope to prepare it for other publications in the near future."
"One of the biggest problems is in getting research issues such as this out to the public and, in this case, to school administrators. By publishing these results, we hope the media will pick up on it to help inform the public and the schools of the results," Hull said.
"While it may seem obvious, it is reassuring to see that classroom learning results in changed behaviors," Hull said. "We know that being active is an important factor in good health, and we recognize that healthy children learn better, so it is a 'win-win' by including physical education classes in the school curriculum, and it may be a big positive for activity levels of the parents of these children as well.
"We think the information in our study will be very useful for teachers, parents and the school community in understanding that PE makes healthier more active children outside of school. An added benefit is that this research supports the need for more PE, something that our future PE teachers and student researchers can really get behind," he said.
Kolodziejczak, a student researcher and future PE teacher, said, "I became interested in this project because when I become a physical educator I should know the statistics behind what I'm doing. Anything to promote physical activity is useful to our field. This research project has helped me form ideas on lesson plans as well as how much sports-based activities vs. lifetime activities I have in my curriculum. With the results of the research, I plan to use them if I ever should need to show an administrator or board member how important physical activity is for a child."
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