School’s Out! How Are We Doing? Physical Activity Report Cards Say Not So Good

Jane WardAs the 2013-14 academic school year ends, report cards are issued across the country. Grades in academic courses, physical education and the arts can lead to celebrations of achievement, or discouragement about not making the grade.

Why should we have report cards?  After all, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” wisely observed Lord Kelvin, the 19th century Scottish scientist.

Two national organizations dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of physical activity, one in the US and the other in Canada, have recently released report cards grading each nation’s progress on physical activity for kids:

Both of these report cards are designed for broad audiences—parents, policy makers, researchers, school systems, sports and recreation programs and all levels of government.  A total of 15 nations, including the US and Canada, adopted an identical reporting template for these report cards—which allows for comparison across countries and the opportunity to learn from successful strategies in other countries.  In each category of physical activity, a score is provided along with associated charts, media reports and summaries that are useful tools for physical activity advocates.

Unlike “grade inflation” that is sometimes seen in academic report cards, the physical activity report cards tell it like it is.  As such, the report cards give both the US and Canada overall scores of D- for overall levels of children’s physical activity.  In the category of active transportation, the US earned an F, because just 13 percent of children are walking and bicycling to school. We deserve a scolding, for sure.

Safe Routes to School advocates can use these low-scoring report cards to help stimulate policies that build environments and programs conducive to health and fitness for our children. Let’s work together to improve programs that help our kids move more, so we don’t earn repeated low scores when our report cards are issued next spring.  

Jane Ward, MD, MPH is our research advisor, responsible for updating our research section and blogging on research topics. She completed a career in the US Air Force as a pediatric ophthalmologist with a strong interest in international humanitarian work. Her lifelong interest in fitness and active living led her to pursue a Masters of Public Health with a focus on Physical Activity and the built environment. For her MPH internship in the spring of 2012, she bicycled cross-country advocating and fundraising for Safe Routes to School and the League of American Bicyclists Bike Friendly America programs. She is an Assistant Professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and retains close ties with the George Washington University Department of Exercise Science. She enjoys bicycling for fun and transportation, triathlons, travel and spending time with family and friends on active vacations.