Physical activity and the achievement gap among urban minority youth

J Sch Health. 2011 Oct;81(10):626-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2011.00637.x.


Objectives: To outline the prevalence and disparities of physical activity among school-aged urban minority youth, causal pathways through which low levels of physical activity and fitness adversely affects academic achievement, and proven or promising approaches for schools to increase physical activity and physical fitness among youth.

Methods: Literature review.

Results: A large proportion of youth is insufficiently physically active. Estimates of population-wide levels of physical activity indicate that Black and Hispanic youth are less physically active than White youth, with disparities particularly evident for females. The population segments of youth with lowest levels of physical activity and fitness also have least access to school-based physical activity opportunities and resources. Physical activity affects metabolism and all major body systems, exerting powerful positive influences on the brain and spinal cord and, consequently, on emotional stability, physical health, and motivation and ability to learn. The cornerstone of school-based physical activity programs should be a high-quality physical education program based on national standards. Such programs are strongly recommended by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services as a way to increase physical activity and physical fitness among youth.

Conclusions: Physical inactivity is highly and disproportionately prevalent among school-aged urban minority youth, has a negative impact on academic achievement through its effects on cognition, and effective practices are available for schools to address this problem. Increasing students' physical activity and physical fitness can best be achieved through a comprehensive approach that includes physical education, wise use of recess and after-school times, co-curricular physical activity opportunities, and bicycling or walking to and from school.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism
  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Age Factors
  • Attention
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Cognition
  • Curriculum
  • Health Promotion
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Minority Groups / psychology
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Motor Activity*
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • School Health Services
  • Schools
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Students
  • United States
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*