Physical education’s role in public health: Steps forward and backward over 20 years and HOPE for the future

James F. Sallis, Thomas L. McKenzie, Michael W. Beets, Aaron Beighle, Heather Erwin, Sarah Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

320 Scopus citations


The 1991 paper, “Physical Education’s Role in Public Health” described the importance of physical education in addressing public health problems. On its 20th anniversary, this article reviews accomplishments in improving the health impact of physical education and identifies areas lacking progress. Major accomplishments include development of evidence-based programs, documentation of health and academic benefits of physical education, and acceptance of physical education as a public health resource. Additional work is needed to evaluate the uptake of evidence-based programs, improve national surveillance of physical education quantity and quality, establish stronger policies supporting active physical education, and achieve wide acceptance of public health goals within the physical education field. These opportunities constitute an agenda for actualizing the promise of Health-Optimizing Physical Education before the next 20-year anniversary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-135
Number of pages11
JournalResearch Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
James Sallis and Thomas McKenzie receive royalties from SPARK Programs of School Specialty, Inc., which markets SPARK and M-SPAN programs. McKenzie was also a contributor to the CATCH and TAAG physical education programs. James Sallis’s contributions were supported in part by Active Living Research, a program of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors thank James R. Morrow, Jr., Michael Metzler, and Hans van der Mars for their thoughtful and helpful comments on an earlier draft. At the time of this study, the first author was with San Diego State University. Please address correspondence concerning this article to James F. Sallis, Distinguished Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California–San Diego, 3900 Fifth Avenue, Suite 310, San Diego, CA 92103.


  • Childhood obesity
  • Health promotion
  • Physical activity
  • Policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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