With Redstone Center Support, New Legislation Passes to Increase Physical Activity for D.C. Students

Thanks to recent legislation passed by D.C. Council, students in D.C. public schools will soon have more time for play and physical activity, which support academic, social and emotional learning and healthy development. Efforts by the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) played a key role in this local public health victory.

The Healthy Students Amendment Act (HSAA), introduced by Councilmembers Mary M. Cheh and Charles Allen, makes a number of improvements related to school time physical activity that were identified since passage of the 2010 Healthy Schools Act (HAS), also introduced by Councilmember Cheh. The legislation mandates that all students receive at least one 20-minute bout of daily recess. It establishes age-appropriate daily physical activity of 60 to 90 minutes for Pre-K students where such guidelines for the District’s youngest students were notably missing. It provides support and professional development for teachers and staff to incorporate physical activity into the classroom. The legislation also addresses challenges with implementation of physical education (PE) class requirements by creating a new minimum requirement for PE minutes and a non-punitive process by which schools create action plans and receive support from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to meet the requirements.

William Dietz, chair of the Redstone Center and a professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH, serves as chair of the Healthy Youth and Schools Commission (HYSC) Subcommittee on Physical Activity. He and staff from the Redstone Center were central to subcommittee efforts related to the HSAA. The role of the HYSC, created by the 2010 HSA, is to advise the D.C. Council on student health and wellness. The PA subcommittee is comprised of local stakeholders, including representatives from D.C. schools, D.C. Department of Health and the Office of Out of School Time, program providers such as BOKS and Playworks, and the American Heart Association and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Over a multi-year process to uncover gaps and opportunities to improve student physical activity, the PA subcommittee made recommendations that contributed to the strong physical activity provisions in the Healthy Students Amendment Act.

Dietz believes the amendment will improve the public health of the D.C. community and can be used as a model for cities nationwide.

“The increased physical activity that will result from these efforts represent a huge step forward for D.C. students in terms of healthy development and academic success,” Dietz said. “The health and wellbeing of students is codified as a value of the District of Columbia. Our efforts brought together a number of diverse stakeholders, demonstrating that this process can and should be replicated across the country. It will be essential to ensure the strong provisions in the Healthy Students Amendments Act are implemented to benefit the students of the District.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently updated national exercise guidelines to include pre-K aged children. The guidelines now encourage children ages 3 to 5 to be active for at least three hours daily, and children ages 6 to 17 be active for at least one hour daily. Regular physical activity helps children and teens increase cardiovascular endurance, improves mental health, and reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Click here to learn more about the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness.