Objective: To determine if state physical education (PE) laws are associated with student physical education attendance and physical activity (PA), and whether physical education and competitive food laws, in conjunction, are associated with lower BMI change.
Method: State laws regarding physical education time requirements and competitive foods in 2003 and 2006 were classified as strong, weak, or none, based on codified law ratings obtained from the Classification of Laws Associated with School Students. Laws were linked to student data on PE attendance and physical activity (8th grade, Spring 2007) and BMI change (5th–8th grade, 2004–2007), obtained from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (n = 5510 students in 40 states).
Results: Girls reported 0.31 more days of activity (95% CI: 0.02, 0.61) and were more likely to attend physical education ≥ 3 days/week (74.1% versus 52.1%, difference = 22.0, 95% CI: 2.1, 42.0) if they resided in states with strong physical education laws compared to no physical education laws. Weak physical education laws had modest associations with PE and activity, and there was no evidence that weak laws reduce BMI gain regardless of competitive food laws.
Conclusion: Strong physical education laws with specific time requirements may increase physical education attendance and activity in girls. There is insufficient evidence that physical education laws reduce student weight gain.