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Food and Exercise in Elementary Schools

Figure 1. Percent of public elementary schools reporting the number of minutes per day of scheduled recess, by elementary grade level: 2005


Percent of public elementary schools reporting the number of minutes per day of scheduled recess, by elementary grade level: 2005

NOTE: Respondents were asked to provide information for each grade that was considered elementary at the school, typically grades 1 through 5 or 6. Details may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: Figure 5 in Parsad, B. and Lewis, L. (2006). Calories In, Calories Out: Food and Exercise in Public Elementary Schools, 2005 (NCES 2006-057). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Combined Minutes Per Week of Physical Education and Recess

Information on the total minutes per day and the number of days per week was used to calculate the total minutes per week of scheduled recess in 2005. The total minutes per week of physical education were added to the total minutes per week of recess to create an overall measure of combined minutes per week for recess and physical education. This measure reflects the total time per week when students may be provided with opportunities for physical activity.

  • When the number of minutes for physical education and recess were combined, the average number of minutes per week for these activities ranged from 208 to 222 minutes across elementary grades (table 1). The schools also had a lower average for grades 4 and 5 than they did for grades 1 through 3.
  • The combined minutes per week for physical education and recess differed by some school characteristics (table 1). For example, large and medium-sized schools reported fewer minutes of combined physical education and recess per week for elementary grades than did small schools. In addition, schools with the highest poverty concentration reported lower averages in combined physical education and recess per week for elementary grades than did schools with lower levels of poverty concentration.

Table 1. Mean number of minutes per week of scheduled recess and physical education, combined, at public elementary schools, by elementary grade level and selected school characteristics: 2005


School characteristic Grade 1 Grade 2 Grade 3 Grade 4 Grade 5 Grade 6
     All public elementary schools 221.7220.1216.9210.7208.4214.1
Enrollment size 
   Less than 300 242.1240.2238.5230.4230.3240.5
   300 to 499 217.2214.7211.9205.5201.6199.7
   500 or more 211.4210.9207.0202.3200.1196.8
School locale 
   City 200.9198.3198.4193.0193.2186.3
   Urban fringe 219.3218.8216.0212.0209.7212.8
   Town 230.5227.3223.1212.2202.9179.1
   Rural 244.4242.8236.3228.0226.1240.0
Region 
   Northeast 192.7192.8190.7188.2184.3184.4
   Southeast 184.7183.8179.4175.9175.5201.2
   Central 225.6222.5218.1208.4200.8186.4
   West 256.5254.6253.2245.3245.6249.3
Percent minority enrollment 
   Less than 6 percent 235.0233.2228.7223.7217.7218.9
   6 to 20 percent 233.1231.5226.4222.3222.2237.4
   21 to 49 percent 227.8225.7224.1215.7212.2230.0
   50 percent or more 203.8202.3200.7193.9193.7190.1
Percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch 
   Less than 35 percent 234.8234.5230.9224.5221.1227.2
   35 to 49 percent 232.2230.7224.7220.2217.2229.4
   50 to 74 percent 229.1225.1220.9212.7209.1228.9
   75 percent or more 190.8189.3189.4184.8186.9179.4
NOTE: Respondents were asked to provide information for each grade that was considered elementary at the school, typically grades 1 through 5 or 6.
SOURCE: Table 19 in Parsad, B. and Lewis, L. (2006). Calories In, Calories Out: Food and Exercise in Public Elementary Schools, 2005 (NCES 2006-057). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Types of Food Available in the School and in the Cafeteria or Lunchroom

Information about the types of food available in the cafeteria or lunchroom was combined with information about the types of food available at vending machines and school stores or snack bars to create an overall measure of whether each of the listed foods was available at one or more locations in the school in 2005. Eighty-eight percent of public elementary schools had at least 1 of the 15 foods for sale outside of full school meals at one or more locations in the school, and 84 percent had at least one of the foods for sale in the cafeteria or lunchroom (figure 2).

  • Nondairy beverages. Public elementary schools were more likely to offer healthier nondairy beverages for sale, such as 100% juice, than less nutritious beverages such as soft drinks (figure 2). For example, 53 percent of the schools offered 100% fruit or vegetable juice and 46 percent offered bottled water for sale at one or more locations in the school. In contrast, 31 percent of the schools offered sport drinks or fruit drinks that were not 100% juice and 12 percent offered soft drinks for sale. Differences in the availability of healthy beverages versus less nutritious beverages were also observed for nondairy beverages in the cafeteria or lunchroom. For example, 47 percent of the schools offered 100% fruit or vegetable juice in the cafeteria or lunchroom, while 22 percent offered sport drinks or fruit drinks that were not 100% juice at this location.
  • Dairy products and lunch sides. Schools reported on the availability of dairy products and lunch sides in the cafeteria or lunchroom (figure 2). About three in four public elementary schools offered low-fat or skim milk for sale, while 39 percent offered milk that was not low fat or skim, 34 percent offered ice cream or frozen yogurt, and 26 percent offered yogurt. Furthermore, public elementary schools were more likely to report the availability of green salad or fruit than french fried potatoes as lunch sides in the cafeteria or lunchroom.
  • Snack foods. Fifteen percent of public elementary schools offered candy for sale at one or more locations in the school, and 5 percent offered this snack in the cafeteria or lunchroom (figure 2). Schools were more likely to offer low-fat salty snacks than those that were not low in fat (38 vs. 25 percent), but they were less likely to offer low-fat cookies or baked goods than those that were not low in fat (28 vs. 34 percent). Differences were also observed for the availability of salty snacks and cookies or baked goods in the cafeteria or lunchroom.

Figure 2. Percent of public elementary schools indicating that various foods were available at one or more locations in the school and at the school cafeteria or lunchroom: 2005


Percent of public elementary schools indicating that various foods were available at one or more locations in the school and at the school cafeteria or lunchroom: 2005

1 Percentages are the same for foods sold at one or more locations in the school and foods sold at the cafeteria or lunchroom because the survey only asked whether dairy products and lunch sides were available in the cafeteria or lunchroom. Thus, no information was collected on the sale of these foods at other locations in the school.
2 This category includes schools that sold at least one of the listed foods in one or more of the indicated locationsócafeteria or lunchroom, vending machine, school store or snack bar.
SOURCE: Figure 3 in Parsad, B. and Lewis, L. (2006). Calories In, Calories Out: Food and Exercise in Public Elementary Schools, 2005 (NCES 2006-057). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

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