Background: Substantial differences exist in how and where physical education (PE) is conducted in elementary schools throughout the United States. Few effectiveness studies of large-scale interventions to improve PE have been reported.
Design: Multicenter randomized trial.
Setting/ participants: The Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health (CATCH) was implemented in PE classes in 96 schools (56 intervention, 40 control) in four study centers: California, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas.
Intervention: The 2.5-year PE intervention consisted of professional development sessions, curricula, and follow-up consultations.
Main outcome measures: Intervention effects on student physical activity and lesson context in PE were examined by teacher type (PE specialists and classroom teachers) and lesson location (indoors and outdoors).
Results: Differential effects by teacher type and lesson location were evidenced for both physical activity and lesson context. Observations of 2016 lessons showed that intervention schools provided more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (p=0.002) and vigorous physical activity (p=0.02) than controls. Classroom teachers improved physical activity relatively more than PE specialists, but PE specialists still provided longer lessons and more physical activity. Classroom teachers increased lesson length (p=0.02) and time for physical fitness (p=0.03).
Conclusions: The intervention improved PE of both specialists' and classroom teachers' lessons. States and districts should ensure that the most qualified staff teaches PE. Interventions need to be tailored to meet local needs and conditions, including teacher type and location of lessons.