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Examining the Relationship Between High School Physical Education and Fitness Outcomes in College Students

Allison Burner, Melissa Bopp, Zack Papalia, Alison Weimer, Christopher M. Bopp


The decline in physical activity (PA) from youth to young adulthood is evident, though limited research has addressed whether specific factors of K–12 physical education (PE) have any influence on outcomes during college years. This study examined the relationship between college students’ physical fitness and PA behavior and their high school PE experiences. College student volunteers (n = 537) completed a fitness assessment examining aerobic endurance, muscular endurance, body composition, and blood glucose and lipids. A survey examined current PA and PE experience in high school (number of semesters, enjoyment, requirements). Analyses were conducted separately for males and females. Pearson correlations examined relationships between fitness, behavioral, and PE outcomes. Differences in behavioral and fitness outcomes were compared with t tests. The final sample was 56.6% male (n = 298) and 43.4% female (n = 227). For males, analyses revealed that PE enjoyment was significantly related to VO2 max, curl-ups, and vigorous physical activity. Number of semesters of PE in high school was negatively associated with triglycerides and total cholesterol and positively associated with moderate physical activity. Those who took PE when it was not required were more vigorously active than those who did not. Males who had a waiver for PE had a lower body fat percentage, performed more curl-ups, and were more vigorously and moderately active compared with those who had no waiver. Number of semesters of PE in high school was negatively associated with triglycerides and total cholesterol. PE enjoyment was positively associated with VO2 max and push-ups. For females, those who took PE when it wasn’t required had a higher VO2 max and vigorous physical activity compared with those who did not. Females with a waiver for PE class had higher triglycerides and total cholesterol compared with those who did not. Females in a coed PE class had a higher BMI and VO2 max compared with those in a combination class. Effective PE programs that encourage participation and educate students on the benefits of physical activity have the capability to establish lifelong healthy and active habits that translate to the college years, and likely beyond. The main findings of this study have the potential to influence the policies regarding PE requirements for school-aged students in all states, such as possibly increasing PE requirements for all grades and discovering certain aspects of PE that could make it more enjoyable for a larger number of students.

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physical education; fitness; college student

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