The causes of lack of physical education vary from country to country. These include a shortage in facilities and equipment, a paucity of physical education teachers, large class sizes, and budgetary constraints. In some African countries such as Botswana and Malawi, where children attend school for a minimal amount of time, the budgets allocated for physical education are instead used to concentrate on subjects such as languages and mathematics.
A lack of physical education also arises from cultural views: in parts of Central America (such as the Bahamas) and Asia (such as Pakistan), exercise is seen a form of leisure that should not be featured in academic curriculum. Another example is seen in India, where girls are often discouraged from engaging in sports because such activity is viewed as "unfeminine" for them to become muscular.
Moreover, a lack of governmental legislation and intervention can be to blame. In parts of South America (with the exception of Chile and Colombia), there are no laws that make physical education mandatory: thus, it is omitted from many schools.
In other cases, such as in areas of the United States, the mandated physical education hours are simply not met. For example, in 33 states, students are permitted to be exempt from physical education courses by replacing them with other activities such as marching band practices.
Outside of school, children often fail to engage in physical activity due to lack of physical literacy, inadequate sleep, and the increasing attractiveness of rival pastimes such as video games. Also, in achievement-oriented populations such as those seen in China, there is an increased emphasis on academic results which also detracts from physical activity time.
An increase in sedentary lifestyle due to a lack of physical education has many physical and psychological consequences on a child in the short and long term.
According to a Portuguese study, children with sedentary lifestyles have nine times poorer motor coordination than active children of the same age. They also have worsened bone density, strength, and flexibility. In the long term, they are more likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and drugs than their active peers.
Sedentary behaviour is strongly associated with obesity, and this imparts a great health risk. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, high LDL cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, sleep apnea, menstrual cycle abnormalities, bone and joint problems, increased cancer risk, and reduced balance. They are also more likely to be obese adults.
As exercise is known to improve well-being and reduce stress, physical inactivity is correlated with poor psychological health such as an increase of major depression. There is a tight link between obesity and psychiatric illness and the two feed on each other in a vicious cycle.
A lack of physical activity is associated with poorer concentration and academic performance, particularly in mathematics and reading.
Finally, obesity induced from lack of exercise also contributes to a decrease in general mental health. Overweight children and teens are more likely to suffer from poor self-esteem, negative body image, teasing, and bullying.
The Canadian Physical Activity guidelines for children ages 5 to 17 consist of at least 1 hour of daily physical activity. Their exercise should range in intensity from moderate (inducing light perspiration and harder breathing) to vigorous (inducing heavy perspiration and heavy breathing). Examples of moderate exercise include bike riding and playground activities, and examples of vigorous exercise include running and swimming. It is recommended that they engage in both vigorous activities and activities strengthening bone and muscles at least three times a week.
The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology also recommends that children ages 5 to 17 limit their sedentary activities, such as television and video games, sedentary transport, and extensive sitting. It is advised that children limit their recreational screen time to a maximum of 120 minutes a day.
The Childhood Obesity Foundation, a Canadian initiative, has invented the 5-2-1-0 mnemonic to remember the national lifestyle recommendations. This consists of 5 servings or more of vegetables and fruit per day, no more than 2 hours of screen time a day, 1 hour of physical activity or more per day, and 0 sugary drinks.
The majority of Canadian children aged 5 to 17 years old (91%) do not meet the daily physical activity recommendations. Although Canadian physical education programs are improving significantly, with 61-80% of schools offering a minimum of 150 minutes of physical education classes per week in 2016, and participation levels in organized sport are on the rise, Canadian school programs are ineffective in encouraging healthy habits. In fact, most Canadian children (56%) lack physical literacy. Consequently, they face many issues related to lifestyle. These include sedentary behaviours such as increased screen time averaging 176 minutes a day from TVs and video games to the detriment of active play. There is also the inevitable decrease in active transportation, more sleep deprivation, and a poor quality of diet.
These lifestyle trends have caused youth obesity rates to nearly triple over the past 30 years. In 2013, this consisted of 28% of Canadian children ages 5–19 that were classified as overweight or obese.
The Pan-Canadian Public Health Network first decided to prioritize the issue of childhood obesity in September 2010 by creating the framework Curbing Childhood Obesity: An overview of the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Framework for Action to Promote Healthy Weights. In this project, federal, provincial and territorial Ministers of Health agreed to focus on three goals: increasing the predominance of nutritious food choices, addressing obesity at an early age, and creating better spaces for children that favour physical activity and healthy eating. This has allowed the action plan Towards a Healthier Canada to be created.
Since the inception of Towards a Healthier Canada, many initiatives have been launched to meet the three goals, and they vary from province to province. They are projects made in the name of a framework or jurisdictional approach/governmental department that are either targeted at schools, at a community, or in partnership with other organizations or companies.
The Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (CAHPERD) has recommended that Canadian schools and school boards take action through specific academic initiatives to ensuring that their physical education curriculum is effective at encouraging and instilling healthy exercise habits in young Canadians. CAHPERD has suggested that schools focus on checking the quality (adequate facilities, budget and research-verified techniques) and quantity (minimum 30 minutes a day) of a school's physical education courses as well as the professional qualifications of the educators. The consultants should check that classes meet the needs of all students irrespective of race, sex, gender, and ability level. The courses should also encourage participation and skill development, with a healthy balance of competitive and noncompetitive activities. Moreover, it is of utmost importance that physical activity and physical education be encouraged by the teacher: they should never be used to punish a student (such as what is seen through the common practice of making children run if they misbehave). Outside of class hours, CAHPERD recommends that schools provide opportunities for intramural activities and involve parents in the fitness initiative.
Nearly 10 million children and adolescents in the United States ages 6–19 are considered overweight because the lack of physical education in schools. Children aged 6–11 have also more than doubled in rate of obesity over the last twenty years.