The NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health survey of 1,368 U.S. parents of public school children in grades Kindergarten-12 found 1-in-4 parents said their child's school gives too little emphasis to physical education, compared with 1-in-7 who said the same thing about reading and writing.
In addition, about 28 percent of parents gave a low grade -- C, D or F -- to their child's school on providing enough time for physical education, while 68 percent reported their child's school did not provide daily physical education classes, a recommendation included in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for schools.
Just under 2-in-10 parents gave a low grade to their child's school on providing quality facilities for physical exercise, such as playgrounds, ball fields or basketball courts.
"In a period with a significant public debate about the content of educational reform, it is significant that many parents feel that more physical education is needed in the schools," Robert Blendon, the Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a statement.
These concerns by some parents are shared by experts in childhood health.
"Experts recommend that high school and middle school students get 225 minutes of physical education per week during the school year, but in fact many don't get that much," said Dwayne Proctor, who directs the childhood obesity team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Currently, less than half of youths meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendation of at least 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. This increases youths' health risks and could jeopardize their well-being throughout their lives. Physical activity is also critical to children's cognitive development and academic success.
The poll also found a substantial number of U.S. parents did not believe the nation's schools sufficiently prepared students for future careers -- 31 percent said they did not believe their children's schools sufficiently taught professional conduct and a work ethic and 29 percent said the schools helped students to choose areas of study that will lead to a good job.
"In today's knowledge economy, education paves a path to a good job, and a good job leads to better health by improving access to medical care and the resources to live in healthier neighborhoods," Proctor said. "Schools need to provide not only the right curriculum, but also help students develop the skills they will need to succeed in work and life."
The telephone survey was conducted Aug. 6 to Sept. 8 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.