School Recess as a Matter of Public Health

A friend who teaches first grade finds her principal’s recess policy maddening. The children are allowed almost no recess, and some teachers have resorted to “sneaking” their classes outside when the principal is off-site. “The children have no rights,” my friend says. She adds that when they haven’t been able to run and play, “teaching is a waste” because the kids can’t focus.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of 60 minutes of daily physical activity for children and adolescents, and the American Academy of Pediatrics describes recess as “crucial.” Yet many schools continue to prioritize academics over physical health. In this month’s AJN Reports, author Carol Potera explores the connection between the decline in physical activity in schools and the increase in childhood obesity and describes the ways in which some schools are trying to reverse these trends.

Potera points to research in which students’ discipline, focus, and academic performance improved after one school’s institution of four 15-minute breaks each day. Some schools have incorporated balance beams, exercise balls, wobble chairs, or pedal desks into their classrooms, to keep kids moving at times throughout the school day that they would otherwise be sedentary. Standing desks are currently being touted both for adult office workers and schoolchildren, because a few studies suggest that the use of these desks may affect BMI percentiles.

“The work of a child is play” is a quote sometimes attributed to Marie Briehl, a pioneer of child psychoanalysis. Instead of simply searching for “measurable” and often expensive non-recess interventions, we shouldn’t overlook the value (and joys) of “plain old” recess. For more on this subject, including links to resources, see “Physical Activity in Schools Declines, Obesity Rates Climb: What Can Be Done?” in the January issue of AJN (the article will be free until February 7).




2017-01-24T15:55:08+00:00 January 25th, 2017|Nursing, Public health|3 Comments
Clinical editor, American Journal of Nursing (AJN), and epidemiologist


  1. Livy Mayans April 18, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    More and more obesity is becoming an issue worldwide. It is alarming to see how much physical education in schools has decreased since I was in school. My third grader did not start recess or physical education until this year while in public school. Children spend the majority of their time in school and should be encouraged to be active, recess is essential not only for the mind but for the body as well. Technology is more present now a day, encouraging a sedentary lifestyle. It is worrying to see what type of adults would result from this new generation as obesity rates climb in children and as we rely more and more on technology.

  2. Nancy Robayo, RN February 18, 2017 at 3:22 am

    This is great! As an RN and a recess mom who has provided the latest EBP to the school board, it’s awesome to see nursing the community on board with this issue!

  3. Maria February 8, 2017 at 11:13 am

    I agree that recess is a must in schools. If an adult needs a break after working for so many hours, how much more for children? We used to have 15-20 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon to eat snacks and play or go to the bathroom. Learning doesn’t happen when a child is hungry, restless or bored.

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