About 32 percent of U.S. colleges and universities require students to take some sort of physical education course to graduate—down from 39 percent in 2010 and 97 percent a century ago, according to a new study from Oregon State University.
The study, which looked at 331 institutions across the country, found that 56 percent had no PE requirement. Just under 32 percent required all undergraduates to take a PE course, and 12 percent had a “partial” requirement, meaning that only certain degree programs mandated PE or that students could choose between PE and other health-related subjects, such as sex education.
The study defined PE as “any activity or academic course pertaining to health, wellness, sports or physical activity.”
Given the general decline in physical activity among children and teens and rising obesity rates nationally, jettisoning physical education for college students is “a counterintuitive idea,” said study co-author Brad Cardinal, a professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
“There’s an enormous amount of scientific evidence supporting the value of physical activity. It’s good for the human body, good for students—it helps them be better learners, better prepared; it increases cognitive functioning and helps with stress management,” he said. “Longitudinal studies have shown that when someone attends an institution with a physical activity education graduation requirement, they tend to be healthier long-term.”