It is no longer about "fit or fat" — when it comes to student health it's "fit or dim." A recent report by the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning, based at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, found that children's fitness level correlates strongly with their test scores.
And the difference is not insignificant. Those who had high levels of cardiovascular fitness scored up to 5% better on standardized tests than their less-fit counterparts.
The researchers compared scores of nearly 100,000 students from 18 districts in Louisiana, and asked the schools to perform a fitness assessment on their students as part of the study.
Students participated in five fitness subtests, each measuring a different quality of fitness, such as aerobic capacity, muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility. Researchers also collected body mass index data to determine students' risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.
According to Holly Howat, a co-principal investigator for Coordinate School Health, the findings showing definite improvement, lend additional urgency for schools to tackle the obesity epidemic among their students.
During the course of the study, the researchers found that according to the commonly used assessments, more than 20% of the state's students can be classified as obese. What this means, says Dr. Wilson Campbell, is that the next generation could be the first in well over a century to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.
Diseases that were once thought to affect adults are now seen in school-aged students, such as Type II diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and depression."
Dr. David Bellar, an assistant professor at the Kinesiology department at the University of Louisiana, says that results could be attributed the increased amount of oxygenated blood traveling through the brain, and while these results are still preliminary, there have long been speculations that physical exercise aids in memory formation.
The Picard Center is taking the "preliminary" designation to heart, and is planning to expand the study to further 22 Louisiana school districts next year.
For educators looking for guidance on introducing physical activity into the school day, the report provides several suggestions for all levels of the academic hierarchy.
· State stakeholders: Advocate for physical education and physical activity daily in public schools. Enforce current legislature regulating minimum physical and health education minutes in schools.
· School district administrators: Protect time during the school day for physical activity and ensure physical education requirements are being met.
· School-level educators: Implement physical education requirements and seek innovative ways to include physical activity throughout the school day.
· Parents and families: Advocate for children's health, including daily physical activity for children in all grades (Pre K–12) and follow the USDA MyPlate guidelines, which includes making half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
· All Louisiana residents: Recognize the impact of physical health and fitness on learning and academic outcomes.