Beginning in elementary school, schoolchildren participate in physical education classes to keep them active and healthy. The movement to create a more active population gained momentum in the wake of World War I, when 1 in 3 drafted military recruits in the United States was not physically fit for combat.
The government passed legislation intended to improve the quality of gym classes across the country, but the Great Depression kept physical education classes from becoming widespread. Again, during World War II, an embarrassingly large number of recruits were unfit for service.
In 2011, 95 percent of high schools, 84 percent of middle schools and 69 percent of elementary schools in the United States required physical education for every student. Promoting physical activity is important at a time when obesity rates for U.S. children have more than doubled in the past 30 years.