Physical Education and Fitness

According to a 2015 study, Tennessee is ranked second in the nation for high school obesity. The same study, conducted in 2011 and focused on 10-17-year-olds, ranks Tennessee fifth in the nation for childhood obesity.

Obesity Graphic

There isn't one particular factor that can be blamed for these startling statistics. As this study by the Food & Action Resource Center explains, there is a connection between food insecurity and obesity. One in six adults and one in four children in Tennessee is experiencing hunger. Additionally, one in five residents of greater-Nashville lives in a food desert. Access to fresh, nutritional food is scarce, leaving many Tennesseans to depend on fast food or prcessed foods becasue they are inexpensive and easily accessible.

Another factor is the limited number of active minutes children and high school students are getting during the school day. Starting with the 2016-2017 school year, state law began requiring the equivalent of 225 active minutes per week for Kindergarteners and 1st graders and 160 minutes for 2nd-6th graders. 7th-12th graders must have 90 active minutes, which was previously the number for all grade levels. Minutes spent walking between classes does not count towards the requirement. An example of active minutes would be the time students spend at recess. Primary and secondary school students have time set aside during the day for recess, keeping them active. However, high school students don’t get recess, making them more sedentary during the school day.

A 2013 survey of high school students across the nation found that Tennessee students were ranking low on the number of minutes spent being physically active and learning about physical education. As previously stated, high school students don't have recess like primary and secondary school students do, and in Tennessee, they are only required to take one-half credit of physical education (P.E.) class in order to graduate. Nationally, it is recommended that high school students get 225 minutes of P.E. per week. No states are currently meeting this amount.

After-school programs are a great way for students to stay active during the school week and access the nutrition they need. You can find organizations offering after-school programs in Middle Tennessee here and here. In 2016, Metro Nashville Public Schools started offering a hot meal to students participating in after-school programs. This means they are feeding students three nutritional meals a day at no charge to parents.

Tennessee is making progress in tackling childhood obesity and keeping students active and healthy, but we have a long ways to go if we are going to improve our national ranking.


How You Can Help:

  • Volunteer as a coach with an after-school sports team.
  • Advocate at your local school for physical education and recess.
  • Donate in-kind gifts to schools and nonprofits such as playground equipment or your gently-used sporting equipment.
  • Provide individual scholarships for students to participate in a sports program.
  • Support efforts to educate the public about the importance of physical education and nutrition.
  • Support The Sports Fund.
  • Support The Womens Fund.


Updated 11/23/16 by Kathryn Bennett