WEDNESDAY, Sept. 8, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- One more hour a week of physical education for kindergarteners and first graders could translate into a 10 percent decrease in the number of overweight 5- and 6-year old girls in the United States, says a Rand Corp. study.
The research concluded that a total of five hours per week of physical education -- which is close to the recommended level -- for those students could cut the number of overweight girls by 43 percent. It could also reduce by 60 percent the number of girls in those grades at risk for being overweight.
Increasing physical education had no significant impact on boys in kindergarten and first grade, the study found. The researchers said this may be because boys are generally more physically active than girls early in life.
Researchers analyzed information on 9,751 school children across the United States who were tracked for two years beginning in kindergarten. The study found that just 16 percent of kindergarten students received daily physical education instruction, and 13 percent received physical education less than once a week or not at all.
The median level of physical education was 35 minutes per week for kindergarten students and 68 minutes per week for students in the first grade.
"Expanding existing physical education instruction could play a significant role in curbing the number of overweight girls," study lead author Ashlesha Datar said in a prepared statement. "While physical education often gets cut when education budgets are tight, it has a potentially important role in the battle against obesity."
The study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The American Heart Association has more about exercise and children.