Physical Activity Practices in Elementary Schools and Associations with Physical Education Staffing and Training

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Purpose: Authorities recommend that schools provide a variety of opportunities for students to obtain physical activity (PA) before, during, and after school. This study assessed the prevalence of several school PA practices—including measures of quantity and quality of physical education (PE)—in elementary schools and examined the associations of PA practices with school resources (PE staffing, training, and facilities). Method: Surveys were obtained from respondents in nationally representative samples of elementary schools from 2009–2010 to 2011–2012 (1,831 schools). Results: Few schools (20.8%) provided students with PE class every day, but most (76.3%) had an appropriate PE student-to-teacher ratio ( ≤ 25:1). Many schools (74.0%) offered 20 min of recess daily, but fewer than half offered organized opportunities for PA before or after school (e.g., sports). After controlling for demographics and school size, having a full-time PE teacher and requiring PE teachers to obtain PE-related continuing education (CE) were associated with PE practices such as offering ≥ 150 min of PE per week (for 3rd-grade students) and testing PE knowledge, skills, and fitness. Required CE was also associated with a higher likelihood of offering PA during the school day (i.e., activity breaks and PA outside of PE class) and before or after the school day (i.e., afterschool PA programs). Conclusion: Few schools offer a broad array of PA programming. However, PE staffing and CE are positively associated with many PA practices including those outside of PE, possibly indicating that PE staff serve a crucial role in promoting a whole-school PA-supportive environment.