Dallas Morning News, July 12, 2008: Poorer school districts have more out-of-shape kids, analysis of fitness tests shows

Posted on

12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, July 12, 2008


/ The Dallas Morning News

Holly Hacker contributed to this report.

Wealth may be a predictor of whether kids are fit or fat.

The Texas Education Agency released district-by-district results from the new statewide Fitnessgram tests Thursday, and an analysis of the data shows a link between high poverty levels and poor fitness among students in many local school districts.

A strong connection does not exist between race and fitness.

“Higher-income families probably expose their kids to more activities,” said Bronwyn Keen, a physical therapist and children’s fitness expert at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

Allen third-graders, for example, posted the best fitness marks for their age group in the region, with Highland Park youngsters close behind. Dallas third-graders were near the bottom of local districts, and Lancaster third-graders ranked worst. Only 5 percent of Lancaster’s third-graders who were tested passed the program’s six fitness challenges, compared with a 30 percent state average.

The correlation between economics and fitness stays true statewide. And everywhere, passage rates plunge as students get older, regardless of their economic backgrounds.

As alarming as the local Fitnessgram results may be, the data from the program’s first year were not gathered with scientific scrutiny.

Administering the test to every third- through 12th-grader in the state was supposed to be mandatory for school districts. Kids were expected to take six tests that measured aerobic capacity, body composition, flexibility and muscular strength and endurance.

But nearly a million students did not take the tests, and some school districts didn’t turn in any results.

Several Dallas-area districts tested only a fraction of their 12th-graders, according to the data. Some students said they were allowed to turn in their own results.

The state law that mandated the testing did not give the TEA teeth to demand compliance from districts, said Marissa Rathbone, director of school health for the TEA. Officials are working on new training guidelines to ensure more uniform testing procedures, she said.

Amy George, a spokeswoman for the Cooper Institute, which designed the Fitnessgram, said the institute will let state officials handle compliance concerns, but the institute plans to offer comprehensive recommendations for schools and families to address children’s current fitness levels.

Juan Carlos Reynoso, public health educator for the city of Irving, said the city is collaborating with the school district on the topic. Next year, he said, a city obesity task force plans to start a pilot program at an Irving elementary school that would teach third-graders and their parents about healthy nutrition and exercise.

He said TEA’s collection of fitness data will push more communities to work together.

“TEA is going to scrutinize the school districts more,” he said. “That forces school districts to really collaborate with their communities to make solutions for all these children that are overweight.

“The problem is you can teach the children and you can do the right thing in school. But if the behaviors taught at school are not modeled at home it defeats the purpose,” Mr. Reynoso said.

The after-school lives of children can be drastically different between the haves and the have-nots.

Some kids are booked from the school bell until long after the dinner bell with gymnastics classes, sports practices and other activities. But “a lot of kids come home from school and they have to stay inside,” Ms. Keen said.

In Fort Worth, community health worker Carole Ojeda teaches fitness classes and pushes lifestyle changes in the Linwood neighborhood as part of the Getting Fit program for families.

She has seen that when parents make power walks part of their daily routine, kids want to join in.

“It affects kids because the parents are being educated,” she said.

Staff writer Holly Hacker contributed to this report.;

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