sealPurdue Science & Health Briefs

May 1997

Professors push for more physical education in schools

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Copies of the Guidelines for School and Community Programs to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity Among Young People are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (800) 458-5231. A color photo of a junior-high golf team also is available. Ask for the photo called Tappe/Phys ed."

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- At a time when the number of children participating in physical education classes is on the decline, Purdue University professors are calling on schools to make "Phys Ed" a mandatory class for all students, every day.

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"Physical education programs should emphasize activities like walking, swimming and dance, which can be enjoyed throughout life," says Marlene Tappe, lead author of a recently released report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that calls for promoting lifelong physical activity starting with children.

"We need to make physical activity fun and focus on what we can do for kids to see that they stay active throughout their lives," she says. Tappe, an associate professor of health, wrote the report as part of an intergovernmental personnel agreement between Purdue and the CDC.

The report, Guidelines for School and Community Programs to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity Among Young People, notes that mandatory physical education on a daily basis goes against the current trend in schools. For example, daily enrollment in high-school physical education classes decreased from 42 percent of students in 1991 to 25 percent in 1995.

The report also points out that although American young people are more active than adults, physical activity sharply declines with age among children and adolescents. Nearly half of this country's youths aged 12 to 21 are not vigorously active on a regular basis.

According to the guidelines, schools should eliminate or sharply reduce the practice of granting exemptions from physical activity, and they should increase the amount of time during class that students are active.

The report also states that safe facilities for physical activity should be made available to students both during and after school. "If schools lack the personnel to offer after-school activities, they could team up with community organizations to see that extracurricular physical activities are available to as many children as possible," Tappe suggests.

She says schools also can help enhance the quality and image of "P.E." classes. "Teachers should never use running or doing push-ups as forms of punishment. And grades for physical education classes should not be too tied to students' athletic ability," she says.

"Too many times we think negatively toward physical education classes with their emphasis on competitive sports. Competition is not for all kids, but physical activity is good for virtually everyone."

CONTACT: Tappe, (765) 494-9112; e-mail,

Purdue researcher: News accounts of UFOs affect beliefs

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A copy of the study is available from Beth Forbes, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-9723.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- With the lines between television news and entertainment blurring, people's beliefs in unidentified flying objects can easily be swayed by what they see on TV, says a Purdue University communication researcher.

"The credibility of the source is important when it comes to how people evaluate the information they hear," says Glenn Sparks, professor of communication. "Our research shows that when uncritical accounts of UFO sightings are aired in the news, belief in UFOs increases among the audience."

Sparks tested the phenomenon by showing study participants two segments from a CBS "48 Hours" program that had been hosted by anchorman Dan Rather. The entire show was on the topic of UFOs and first aired on April 20, 1994. Participants' beliefs in UFOs were measured both before and after viewing the segments.

Half the participants saw a segment with a one-sided story featuring people who allegedly witnessed space aliens being dragged from a flying-saucer crash in New Mexico in 1947. The segment appeared exactly as it was originally broadcast and contained nothing that would discredit the existence of flying saucers.

The rest of the participants were shown a segment that depicted a group "filming an actual UFO." As part of the piece, scientists commented on the film and used computer enhancement to show that the image probably was nothing more than a conventional jet aircraft.

The one-sided segment increased UFO beliefs almost as much as the two-sided segment decreased beliefs in UFOs, Sparks says. The two-sided message group dropped more than 3.5 points on the UFO beliefs measure, while the one-sided group increased their UFO beliefs by nearly 2.5 points. "Statistical analysis revealed that the probability that changes of this magnitude would occur by chance alone is less than 3 in 10,000," he says.

Sparks says the effect of news stories about UFOs is particularly important given the number of people who are uncertain about their beliefs. "Surveys show that one-third to one-half of adults believe in the existence of UFOs," he says. "Another third are uncertain about their existence and are therefore likely to be impacted by information from sources they perceive to be credible.

"Overall, that particular episode of '48 Hours' did present a balanced treatment of UFOs. However, many viewers see only portions of a program, and those segments that are not balanced may be accepted by audience members without any critical scrutiny."

He said news programs are more likely to affect beliefs than entertainment shows such as "X Files."

Sparks' study tied for the "Top Paper" award in the research division from the Broadcast Education Association during its annual convention April 4-7 in Las Vegas, Nev.

CONTACT: Sparks, (765) 494-3316; home: (765) 497-3045; e-mail,

Compiled by Susan Gaidos, (765) 494-2081; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Photo Caption

The Centers for Disease Control are promoting life-long physical activity starting with children. A Purdue professor who wrote the CDC's guidelines says youths should be taught physical activities, such as golf, which can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Here, junior-high students are trying out for their school's golf team. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Tappe/Phys ed
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