Date Published: March 13, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Diego Augusto Santos Silva, Jean-Philippe Chaput, Mark S. Tremblay, Fernando C. Wehrmeister.
To examine the association between participation frequency per week in physical education (PE) classes and physical activity (PA) and sitting time levels in adolescents according to the economic development level of the region of residence.
A cross-sectional study with a sample representative of Brazil was carried out with 12,220 students aged 11–19 years. Participation frequency per week in PE classes, moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA), PA during PE classes, active commuting, PA outside of school hours, total accumulated PA, time sitting in front of the TV and total sitting time were assessed by using a self-administered questionnaire.
Adolescents who reported having PE classes were more likely to meet MVPA recommendations (1–2 PE class/week–OR: 1.3, 95%CI: 1.1–1.5; ≥3 PE class/week–OR: 2.0, 95%CI: 1.7–2.5), spent more time in PA outside of school hours (1–2 PE class/week–OR: 1.6, 95%CI: 1.4–1.9; ≥3 PE class/week–OR: 2.0, 95%CI: 1.5–2.6), and accumulated more PA (1–2 PE class/week–OR: 1.9, 95%CI: 1.6–2.2; ≥3 PE class/week–OR: 6.0, 95%CI: 4.0–8.9) than students who reported not taking PE classes. Boys from regions with higher Human Development Index (HDI) who took ≥3 PE classes/week were more likely to have higher levels of active commuting (OR: 1.4, 95%CI: 1.1–1.9) and less likely of getting in front of TV (OR: 0.7, 95%CI: 0.5–0.9). Adolescents from regions with higher HDI were more likely to have more time spent in PA during PE classes (Male–OR: 2.7, 95%CI: 2.4–3.1; Female–OR = 3.2, 95%CI: 2.8–3.7).
Having PE classes is associated with a higher level of PA in both sexes and in both regions and lower level of sitting time in boys from regions with higher HDI.
Among the various strategies aimed at addressing low PA levels and high sitting time in children and adolescents, Physical Education (PE) classes in the school environment stands out . Studies have shown that adolescents who have higher frequency of participation in PE classes are more likely to spend more time in moderate- to-vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) and less time sitting throughout the day , to have better academic performance , greater social interactions  and lower cardiovascular risk  compared to peers who do not attend PE classes. These findings highlight the importance of PE classes as a means of improving and maintaining the health of children and adolescents.
Table 1 shows the sample distribution according to the participation frequency in PE classes and economic development of Brazilian regions. Students who took three or more PE classes/week had higher prevalence of meeting the MVPA recommendation (30.0%), were in the highest tertile of time spent in active commuting (39.0%), PA outside of school hours (43.0%), total accumulated PA (60.0%) and spent less time in the sitting position (38.0%) than students who did not take any PE classes at school (Fig 1).
This study is the first one with a representative sample of Brazil that found direct association between PE classes and higher levels of PA and less time in the sitting position among adolescents. These associations were consistent for PA in- and out-of-school. This study also adds information on the fact that adolescents from developed regions of Brazil attended more classes of PE per week than adolescents from less developed regions and, therefore, were more likely to be active throughout the day.