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First Lady Michelle Obama recently published a book about her vegetable garden at the White House. However, she gave an incorrect statistic in an interview with NPR about the book. First Lady Michelle Obama recently published a book about her vegetable garden at the White House. However, she gave an incorrect statistic in an interview with NPR about the book.

First Lady Michelle Obama recently published a book about her vegetable garden at the White House. However, she gave an incorrect statistic in an interview with NPR about the book.

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson May 30, 2012

Michelle Obama understates percentage of high schools with physical education

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.

Our ruling

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.

Our Sources

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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Michelle Obama understates percentage of high schools with physical education

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