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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2018

Investigating best practices of district-wide physical activity programmatic efforts in US schools– a mixed-methods approach

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2018
Christina D. Economos, Megan P. Mueller, Nicole Schultz, Julie Gervis, Gabrielle F. Miller, Russell R. Pate
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12889-018-5889-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



The majority of US children do not meet physical activity recommendations. Schools are an important environment for promoting physical activity in children, yet most school districts do not offer enough physical activity opportunities to meet recommendations. This study aimed to identify school districts across the country that demonstrated exemplary efforts to provide students with many physical activity opportunities and to understand the factors that facilitated their programmatic success.


A total of 59 districts were identified as model districts by members of the Physical Activity and Health Innovation Collaborative, an ad hoc activity associated with the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with consenting stakeholders from 23 school districts to understand physical education and activity efforts and elucidate factors that led to the success of these districts’ physical activity programming. Districts were geographically and socioeconomically diverse and varied in their administrative and funding structure.


Most districts did not offer the recommended 150 or 225 min of physical activity a week through physical education alone; yet all districts offered a range of programs outside of physical education that provided additional opportunities for students to be physically active. The average number of school-based physical activity programs offered was 5.5, 3.5 and 2.1 for elementary, middle and high schools, respectively. Three overarching and broadly relevant themes were identified that were associated with successfully enhancing physical activity opportunities for students: soliciting and maintaining the support of champions, securing funding and/or tangible support, and fostering bi-directional partnerships between the district and community organizations and programs. Not only were these three themes critical for the development of physical activity opportunities, but they also remained important for the implementation, evaluation and sustainability of programs. These themes also did not differ substantially by the socioeconomic status of districts.


These findings demonstrate the success of school districts across the nation in providing ample opportunities for physical activity despite considerable variability in socioeconomic status and resources. These results can inform future research and provide actionable evidence for school districts to enhance physical activity opportunities to students.
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