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The "PE Effect" - Does It Exist?

By Chuck Corbin, Arizona State University



In 2014, Ken Green wrote an article in which he noted that physical educators widely believe that physical education is a crucial vehicle for promoting physical activity over the life span. This article referred to physical education’s promotion of lifelong physical activity as the “PE effect.” Green further indicated that “[d]espite the prevalence of such beliefs, there is a dearth of evidence demonstrating a ‘PE effect.’” He suggested a need for longitudinal research to help us to “better understand in precisely what circumstances PE interventions might work to enhance youth involvement in sport and physical activity and, subsequently, lifelong participation.”


Conceptual physical educationSince the publication of Green’s report, scholars have followed up on Green’s call for research to support the “PE effect.” One such longitudinal effort was already in the works--Project Active Teen (PAT), which studied the effects of conceptual physical education (CPE) on physical activity patterns after the school years. In PAT, one group of high school students took a CPE class that used a text, classroom sessions, and associated physical activity sessions. The class focused on helping students learn important physical activity and fitness concepts and self-management skills. The physical activity levels of CPE participants were compared to controls who took traditional physical education (TPE) and to national samples of age-matched peers.


PAT’s results were reported in three different research projects: The first study looked at students when they were juniors and seniors (they had taken physical education as freshmen), the second was done two years after graduation, and the third was completed 20 years after graduation. All three PAT study reports showed long-term physical activity benefits for the CPE group. Also, years later, CPE students were less likely to be inactive (not meet any physical activity guidelines) than controls or national peer groups. Twenty years after high school graduation, the majority of CPE students indicated that they remembered content from the class and currently considered themselves to be well informed about physical fitness and physical activity. Half of them indicated that they still use CPE information and found the class useful after graduation. The authors note that the findings are consistent with similar studies showing increased physical activity among CPE participants at the college level.


Collectively, the evidence indicates that there is such a thing as a “PE effect” or, perhaps more correctly stated, a “CPE effect.”


Author’s note: I would like to give credit to the Tempe Union High School District governing board and the educators at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Arizona, who initiated the Fitness for Life program and who allowed us to conduct PAT, including principal Dr. Harold Slemmer, physical education department head Karl Kieffer, and lead Fitness for Life teacher Phil Abbaesssa. The Fitness for Life program that served as the basis for Project Active Teen still continues under the direction of Jeff Decker and Andrea Fazz nearly 30 years after its inception.



 Dale, D.L., & Corbin, C.B. (2000). Physical activity participation of high school graduates following exposure to conceptual or traditional physical education. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 71, 61-68.

Dale, D.L., Corbin, C.B., & Cuddihy, T. (1998). Can conceptual physical education promote physically active lifestyles? Pediatric Exercise Science, 10, 97-109.

Green, K. (2014). Mission impossible? Reflecting upon the relationship between physical education, youth sport and lifelong participation. Sport, Education and Society, 19(4), 357-375.

Kulinna, P.H., Corbin, C.B., & Yu, H. (2018). Effectiveness of secondary school conceptual physical education: 20-year longitudinal study. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 15, 927-932.


Chuck CorbinChuck practices what he preaches.  After 45 years of teaching, researching, writing, and promoting regular healthy lifestyles, he walks, plays golf, does his own yard work, and does regular core and muscle fitness exercises. He enjoys playing his guitar as well as traveling with his wife of 56 years and being with his four granddaughters. Learn more about the books written by Chuck, including Fitness for Life and Health for Life resources.