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As first lady, Michelle Obama has promoted exercise and healthy eating to combat teen obesity, a project she calls Let's Move. During a recent interview with NPR to promote American Grown, a diary about her White House vegetable garden, she lamented the decline in physical education in schools.
"Kids aren't playing outside as much," she told NPR. "The statistics show that kids are spending an average of 7.5 hours a day in front of some kind of screen, a TV, computer, what have you. Fewer schools are offering PE. Only 2 percent of high schools -- public high schools in the country offer PE classes. Two percent."
A reader asked us to check the claim that "only 2 percent of public high schools in the country offer PE classes" because the number sounded low.
In October 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the School Health Policies and Practices Study, which tabulated statistics for 2006. It’s summarized here, but these are the key findings as they relate to Obama’s comment:
• Overall, 69.3 percent of elementary schools, 83.9 percent of middle schools and 95.2 percent of high schools required PE in 2006.
• However, only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools and 2.1 percent of high schools provided daily PE or its equivalent.
We checked with the CDC and a spokeswoman confirmed that the 2006 figures were the most recent ones available.
A subsequent report conducted by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association found that 46 states (out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia) mandate PE for high school students.
A spokeswoman for Obama confirmed that she had misspoken. Obama was referring to the 2007 CDC study, and her mistake was to say that only 2 percent of public high schools offer PE classes. In fact, 2 percent of public high schools offer daily PE classes.
Official federal data show that more than 95 percent of high schools in 2006 required PE -- a far cry from the 2 percent Obama cited. We rate her claim False.
NPR, "The First Lady Cultivates 'American Grown' Gardening," May 29, 2012
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, summary of the School Health Policies and Practices Study, October 2007
National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association, "Shape of the Nation," 2010
New York Times, "Schools Found Improving on Nutrition and Fitness," Oct. 20, 2007
Interview with Karen Hunter, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 30, 2012
Interview with Carly Braxton, senior manager of government relations at the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, May 30, 2012
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