CHASP Faculty Member and LBJ School Professor Paul von Hippel Finds Texas’ $37 Million PE Program Did Little to Reduce Obesity

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CHASP Faculty Member and LBJ School Professor Paul von Hippel Finds Texas’ $37 Million PE Program Did Little to Reduce Obesity

Paul von Hippel, CHASP faculty member and LBJ Assistant Professor, conducted the largest study ever of a physical education (PE) program and recently had the findings published in peer-reviewed journal, Preventative Medicine: The effects of school physical education grants on obesity, fitness, and academic achievement.

Physical education programs have long been funded by governments and foundations, however, the effects of these programs are unknown.

von Hippel and former graduate student Kyle Bradbury analyzed PE program, Texas Fitness Now, a program that received $37 million from the State of Texas. The program targeted high-poverty middle schools with the aim of reducing obesity, increasing fitness, and raising academic achievement through improved physical education during a four year period.

Texas Fitness Now was funded by the state Legislature starting with the 2007‐08 school year. It ended after four years, in 2011, amid legislative budget cuts.

“The state launched this program with limited evidence that it could reduce obesity and continued and then discontinued the program without much evidence of whether it was working or not,” said Dr. von Hippel.

The Austin‐based St. David’s Foundation funded the research, which drew from publicly available records, including some that the researchers obtained under the Texas Public Information Act.

“While the results may not be what we all would have hoped for, many middle schools in some of the poorest areas of our state were able to acquire needed fitness equipment,” Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said in a statement. “In addition, this UT study does acknowledge increases in fitness for middle school boys and girls, which may result in better health practices in the future.”

The UT researchers analyzed obesity rates at more than 1,150 middle schools enrolling more than 770,000 students per year. The schools spent most of the $37 million in state grants on sports gear and fitness equipment.

Von Hippel said various studies have shown that programs combining physical activity with a diet component have better results in reducing obesity. Nutrition was a relatively minor aspect of Texas Fitness Now, with 25 percent of funds required to be spent on nutrition. The requirement was not enforced, and only 7 percent was spent on nutrition in the 2009‐10 school year, the researchers found.

The program improved flexibility and strength, especially among girls. And although the state’s guidelines predicted that the program would boost academic achievement through improved cognitive ability, the grants on average had no effect on math.

Key findings from the paper:

  • There is little consensus about which risk factors cluster for sub groups of people.
  • This systematic review examined the literature on clustering of SNAP risk factors.
  • A majority of studies reported a ‘healthy’ cluster (absence of any SNAP risks).
  • More than half of the studies reported a clustering of risky alcohol with smoking.
  • Social disadvantage and male gender were associated with riskier patterns.

For the official release and further media coverage, click here.