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The Impact of Physical Education on Obesity among Elementary School Children

  • John Cawley
  • David Frisvold
  • Chad Meyerhoefer

In response to the dramatic rise in childhood obesity, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other organizations have advocated increasing the time that elementary school children spend in physical education (PE) classes. However, little is known about the effect of PE on child weight. This paper measures that effect by instrumenting for child PE time with state policies, using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K) for 1998-2004. Results from IV models indicate that PE lowers BMI z-score and reduces the probability of obesity among 5th graders (in particular, boys), while the instrument is insufficiently powerful to reliably estimate effects for younger children. This represents some of the first evidence of a causal effect of PE on youth obesity, and thus offers at least some support to the assumptions behind the CDC recommendations. We find no evidence that increased PE time crowds out time in academic courses or has spillovers to achievement test scores.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18341.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18341.

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Date of creation: Aug 2012
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Publication status: published as Cawley, John, David Frisvold, and Chad Meyerhoefer. "The Impact of Physical Education on Obesity among Elementary School Children." Journal of Health Economics, 2013, 32(4): 743-755.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18341
Note: CH ED HE LE PE
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  1. John Cawley & Richard V. Burkhauser, 2006. "Beyond BMI: The Value of More Accurate Measures of Fatness and Obesity in Social Science Research," NBER Working Papers 12291, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Dills, Angela K. & Morgan, Hillary N. & Rotthoff, Kurt W., 2011. "Recess, physical education, and elementary school student outcomes," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 889-900, October.
  3. John Cawley & Chad Meyerhoefer & David Newhouse, 2007. "The impact of state physical education requirements on youth physical activity and overweight," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(12), pages 1287-1301.
  4. Cawley, John & Ruhm, Christopher J., 2011. "The Economics of Risky Health Behaviors," IZA Discussion Papers 5728, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. repec:mpr:mprres:6209 is not listed on IDEAS
  6. Stock, James H & Wright, Jonathan H & Yogo, Motohiro, 2002. "A Survey of Weak Instruments and Weak Identification in Generalized Method of Moments," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(4), pages 518-29, October.
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