Presenter: Chad Meyerhoefer (Lehigh University. )
Discussant: Inas Rashad Kelly (City University of New York, Queens College)
Childhood obesity is a significant public health concern because of the influence of obesity on health and medical costs. As a result of the dramatic increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity, many states now require elementary school students to participate in physical education (PE) classes. Additionally, states have increased or are considering increasing the required time that elementary school students must participate in PE. This paper examines the impact of state PE requirements for elementary school students on childhood obesity and whether there is a secondary effect on academic achievement.
Previous research suggests that increases in the amount of time spent in physical education in elementary school can reduce body mass index (Datar and Sturm, 2004) but that state PE requirements for high school students have not (Cawley, Meyerhoefer, and Newhouse, 2007). We add to this literature by focusing on state PE requirements for elementary school students. While state laws for high school students determine the number of credits that students must have to graduate and thus apply to a limited number of years during high school, elementary school mandates apply to each year. Additionally, policies that target children at younger ages may be more effective at influencing body mass index.
We also examine the possible secondary influence of state PE requirements on academic achievement. School accountability policies provide incentives for schools to place a greater
emphasiswithintheschooldayonimprovingtestscores. Asstatesincreasetheamountoftimethat students are required to participate in PE classes, a potential unintended consequence is that these laws may reduce academic achievement if they reduce the amount of time available for academic classes. Alternatively,physicalactivitymaycomplementacademicachievement;thus,ifthesestate requirements increase physical activity, then there may be a positive spillover of an increase in student achievement.
To examine the impact of state PE requirements for elementary school students on childhood obesity and academic achievement, we utilize data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), merged with state PE requirements from the Shape of the Nation reports. The ECLS-K began in 1998-1999 with a nationally representative sample of kindergarten students and has followed these children until 8th grade in 2007. Importantly, these data contain measured height and weight; math, reading, and science measures of achievement; and information about the amount of time in PE and academic classes.
We utilize the longitudinal nature of the ECLS-K to identify the impact of state elementary school PE requirements and compare the changes in body mass index and academic achievement over time for students in states with PE requirements to students in states without these requirements and to students in states that changed their laws. Additionally, we exploit the variation in state laws as instrumental variables to estimate the impact of PE on body mass index, obesity, exercise, and achievement. Results will show whether state PE requirements have been effective in halting the rise in childhood obesity and whether these requirements conflict with the goals of school accountability policies.
Presenter Biography: Chad Meyerhoefer is an Assistant Professor of economics and Associate Director of the Ph.D. program at Lehigh University. His current research focuses on the public policy implications of obesity and physical inactivity, and the demand for health care. He has published in a variety of outlets including Health Economics, Health Affairs, Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, B.E. Journal of Economics Analysis and Policy, Contemporary Economic Policy, and Journal of Development Studies. Professor Meyerhoefer has received several research awards from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, including the 2003 Outstanding Ph.D. Dissertation Award and 2008 award for Outstanding Journal Article in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. He earned his Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in applied economics from Cornell University and B.S. with high honors from Binghamton University. Prior to joining Lehigh he was a research economist at The CNA Corporation and the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). While at AHRQ he provided analytical oversight to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and served as an adjunct professor of public policy at Georgetown University.
The 3rd Biennial Conference of the American Society of Health Economists took place at Cornell University.
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