Background: To determine whether the provision of higher levels of compulsory school physical activity is associated with higher physical activity and fitness levels and less overweight in childhood and 20 years later.
Methods: As part of the 1985 Australian Schools Health and Fitness Survey, 109 schools reported how much compulsory physical education (PE) and school sport they provided and were classified as low (<110 and <150 minutes/week for primary and secondary schools, respectively), medium (110-149 and 150-189 minutes/week for primary and secondary schools, respectively) or high (> or =150 and > or =190 minutes/week for primary and secondary schools, respectively) compulsory physical activity schools by tertile cutpoints. 6,412 children reported frequency and duration of school (PE and sport) and non-school (commuting and non-organised exercise) physical activity and had height and weight measured; overweight was defined using body mass index (BMI) (m/kg2) cutpoints. 9, 12 and 15 year-olds (n = 2,595) completed a cycle ergometer fitness test (physical working capacity at heart rate 170, PWC170). At follow-up in 2004-5, 2,346 participants kept a pedometer record, completed the International Physical Activity Questionnaire and/or a PWC170 fitness test; and had height and weight measured (overweight = BMI> or =25 m/kg2).
Results: At baseline and follow-up, median total physical activity, fitness and BMI were similar in participants who attended low, medium and high physical activity schools, and those attending high physical activity schools reported only modestly higher school physical activity. There was no difference in the prevalence of high total physical activity and fitness levels in childhood or adulthood across compulsory school physical activity categories. The prevalence of overweight in childhood and adulthood was similar across low, medium and high compulsory physical activity schools.
Conclusion: The amount of compulsory physical activity reported by schools was not associated with total physical activity, fitness or overweight in childhood or in adulthood. Policies promoting amounts of compulsory school physical activity in this range may not be sufficient to increase physical activity and fitness or reduce the prevalence of obesity in children.