A study performed by the University of Texas at Austin found that despite the implementation of a four-year, $37 million state program aimed at improving physical education at high-poverty middle schools across Texas, obesity rates have yet to drop.
The program, Texas Fitness Now, offered funding to schools in the state to boost their physical education programs through the purchase of new sports and gym equipment between 2007 and 2011. While one quarter of that money was originally set aside for nutrition, only around 7% of funding in 2009 and 2010 was put toward healthy eating initiatives.
“The problem with this program is it was too open ended what the schools did, and there wasn’t enough evaluation as things went along,” said Paul von Hippel, a researcher at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “The program failed, we found, in its primary goal of reducing obesity, but it did increase fitness.”
However, the Texas Education Agency, the group who hands out the grants, says the program has had some success. According to agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe, despite the poor results pertaining to obesity rates in Texas, many of the poorest middle schools in the state were still able to purchase much needed equipment for their physical education programs, writes Edgar Walters for The Texas Tribune.
Although obesity rates have not dropped, students in the state have shown marked improvement in their physical education classes. Results from the physical fitness exam students in the state are required to participate in each year, known as Fitnessgram, showed both boys and girls able to complete more pushups, as well as being better-able to complete a faster shuttle run and short-distance agility drill. In addition, girls were able to perform better on an abdominal strength drill and showed improved flexibility.
The main goal of the program was to boost students’ academic achievement. Program guidelines state “through increased fitness, students’ cognitive ability will improve.” However, researchers were not able to find any indication of improved academics due to participation in the program.
Results showed little improvement on math and reading exams, although scores did increase for seventh and eighth-graders. This could be due to having spent two or three years in schools that participated in the program.
Budget cuts caused the program to come to an end in 2011. Participating schools were able to keep the equipment they had purchased, and schools did not see a drop in levels of fitness or academic achievement.