A natural experiment to assess recess frequency on children’s physical activity in Arizona (U.S.) elementary schools

Allison Poulos, Kylie Wilson, Marissa Schulke, Kahyun Nam, Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, Yang Bai, Pamela Hodges Kulinna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In the United States, the number of state policies mandating recess in schools has rapidly increased over the past decade; however, few policies specify recess frequency. Informed by an ecological model of physical activity (PA) policy, this study examined and compared total amounts and intensity of PA expended during recess among children attending schools in compliance with Arizona recess policy ARS§ 15–118 mandating 2 + daily recess periods versus not. Methods: PA during recess was measured among grade three children (ages 8–10) in four randomly selected elementary schools (two complying averaging 30 daily recess minutes; two non-complying averaging 15 daily recess minutes) in Maricopa County, Arizona. Group-level PA was assessed by direct observation using the System for Observing Play and Leisure (137 observations). A subset of students (N = 134) from all schools wore ActiGraph GT3X + devices during recess to measure individual PA. General linear mixed effects models were used to analyze the impact of recess frequency on group and individual PA during recess. Results: Students attending complying schools spent significantly greater proportions of time in moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) based on direct observation (5%) and accelerometry (15%) and less time being sedentary based on accelerometry (14%) during recess. Across the school day, this would equate to 5.1 more MVPA minutes based on systematic direct observation and 9.5 more MVPA minutes based on accelerometry, and 4.1 less minutes being sedentary based on accelerometry if students received two daily 15-minute recess periods compared to one. Conclusions: Students attending elementary schools implementing 2 + recesses, in accordance with state policy, demonstrated greater MVPA and less sedentary time, providing preliminary evidence that recess frequency is associated with greater PA intensity among children during recess. Schools that adhere to state-level PA policies may provide a more supportive environment for PA, resulting in increased movement among students. Specifying recess frequency should be considered in statewide recess policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number225
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


  • Accelerometer
  • Direct observation
  • Movement
  • Policy
  • Recess dose

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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