State Physical Education Requirements, Youth Obesity and Academic Performance
Thanh Tam Nguyen, San Diego State University
High school physical education requirements have been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia with the goal of increasing youth exercise and reducing body weight. However, relatively little is known about their effectiveness in improving student health or their spillover effects on school performance. Using repeated cross-sectional data from the 1999 to 2011 National and State Youth Risk Behavior Surveys and a difference-in-difference approach, we find that one credit increase in state PE requirements is associated with a 17.4 minute per week increase in in-school exercise and an increase in overall exercise, but no change in youth obesity. These findings are robust to controls for state-specific time trends, falsification tests on older young adults for whom school PE requirements do not bind, and use of a synthetic control design that imposes parallel pre-treatment trends. Finally, we find evidence that state PE requirements are associated with diminished academic performance.