U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Physical Activity

Results from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System show that 18.4 percent of high school students met currently recommended levels of physical activity in 2009. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services updated its physical activity guidelines in 2008, recommending that children and adolescents get one hour or more of physical activity every day, most of which should be moderate- to vigorous- intensity aerobic activity. Non-Hispanic White students were the most likely to report 60 minutes of physical activity that increased heart rate and made them breathe hard on each of the previous 7 days (19.7 percent), followed by non-Hispanic Black students (17.2 percent); Hispanic students were least likely to meet recommended levels (15.6 percent). Students were more likely to report being active on five or more days in the past week (39.9 percent). Overall, 23.1 percent of students did not participate in 60 or more minutes of physical activity on any day in the preceding week.

Nationwide, 56.4 percent of high school students attended physical education (PE) classes at least one day per week in 2009. The rate drops dramatically with increasing grade: 72.4 percent of 9th grade students attended PE class, compared to 43.8 percent of 12th grade students. The percentage of students attending daily PE classes has dropped from 42.0 percent in 1991 to 33.3 percent in 2009. Hispanic students were most likely to attend daily PE classes (40.5 percent), followed by non-Hispanic Black students (37.0 percent); non-Hispanic White students were least likely to attend daily PE classes (30.6 percent; data not shown).

In 2009, 58.3 percent of high school students reported playing on at least one sports team in the past year. This was also more common among younger children than older children (61.6 percent of 9th graders compared to 51.1 percent of 12th graders). High school students were also asked about sedentary activities, such as using a computer or watching television. One-quarter of students reported using a computer for something other than school work for 3 or more hours per day on an average school day, while 32.8 percent reported watching television for 3 or more hours on an average school day (data not shown).

The Let’s Move! campaign is working to combat childhood obesity through a comprehensive approach that provides schools, families and communities with simple tools to help kids be more active, eat better, and get healthy.

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