Friday, February 26, 2010

Physical Fitness & Academic Success

Physically fit students tend to score higher on standardized tests than their less fit peers, a new study suggests.

Test scores dropped more than one point for each extra minute it took middle and high school students to complete a 1-mile run/walk fitness test, Dr. William J. McCarthy and colleagues at the University of California in Los Angeles found.

McCarthy and colleagues compared physical fitness and body weight measures with scores on California's standardized math, reading, and language tests among 749 fifth-graders, 761 seventh-graders, and 479 ninth-graders who attended schools in Southern California between 2002 and 2003.

About half of the students were girls, 60 percent were white, 26 percent were of Hispanic ethnicity, and about 7 percent each were African American and Asian/Pacific Islander. Almost 32 percent of the students were overweight and about 28 percent were obese, the researchers report in The Journal of Pediatrics.

McCarthy's team found that nearly two thirds of the students (65 percent) fell below the state fitness standard for their age and gender. Compared with these students, those who met or exceeded fitness standards had higher average test scores. Allowing for age, social and economic status, gender, ethnicity, and body size did not significantly alter this association.

Compared with students of desirable weight, overweight and obese students also scored significantly lower on tests, the researchers report.

If future studies confirm a cause-and-effect link between lower fitness and reduced academic performance, "schools will have to reverse their recent disinvestment in physical education ostensibly for the purposes of boosting student achievement," they conclude.

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