According to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (November 2009), physical education (PE) classes can make a real difference in the weight status of teens who live in low-income areas. The study examined physical activity opportunities linked to fitness and weight status among adolescents enrolled in 19 public schools participating in the California Endowment’s Healthy Eating, Active Communities program.

The researchers compared weight loss
opportunities such as walking to school, taking a PE class and exercising on school grounds outside of regular school hours. PE went to
the head of the class in terms of improving the teens’ cardiorespiratory fitness and body mass index, and playing on school grounds also scored high. Interestingly, increasing the teens’ chances to walk to school was associated with poorer weight status and greater odds of their purchasing food while in transit.

“Physical education is a valuable policy
opportunity to improve student health,” the study’s authors concluded. “Promoting active transport may improve fitness but must be done in conjunction with community partnerships to improve the food environment in the vicinity of schools. Promoting the use of school grounds outside school hours (such as afterschool programs) should also be prioritized in response to youth obesity.”

Fitness professionals could be a valuable resource, especially in economically challenged communities, in reversing the obesity levels among low-income adolescents. Encourage school districts in your city and state to reintroduce PE classes and offer more afterschool fitness programs to help low-income teens stay active and maintain a healthy weight.