July 13, 2009 – Physically fit students tend to outscore their peers who are less-fit on academic tests, according to a new report from New York City’s Health Department and Department of Education (DOE). The observation comes from an analysis of data from NYC FITNESSGRAM, the comprehensive fitness assessment that New York City public school students participate in each year as part of their physical education instruction. The analysis also shows that childhood obesity remains prevalent in New York City – a finding that underscores the urgent need to ensure that school-age children receive nutritious meals, high-quality physical education, and ample opportunities for physical activity.
Fitness has been proven to promote a longer, healthier life. Although these new findings do not demonstrate a direct cause-and-effect relationship, they do show a strong association between fitness and academic success. During the 2007-2008 school year, students who scored in the top 5% on their NYC FITNESSGRAM assessments outscored the bottom 5% by an average of 36 percentile points on standardized academic tests.
The new report also examines childhood obesity in New York City. The findings suggest that 21% of kindergarten through eighth grade students are obese, and an additional 18% of the City’s students are overweight. The full report is available at www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/survey/survey-2009fitnessgram.pdf.
Childhood obesity increases a child’s risk of developing diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – all potentially lifelong health problems – as well as heart disease and cancer during adulthood. “When four out of 10 school kids are overweight or obese, the city has a problem,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “We know that physical activity can combat obesity and its health consequences. This report suggests that healthy, active kids also learn better.”
“The long-term health of our students is very important,” said Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. “The report’s findings send a clear message to schools, parents and healthcare providers to do everything possible to ensure that children receive the opportunities for physical activity and the proper nutrition that will help them stay fit and healthy.”
How to help children be fit and develop healthy eating habits:
- Make sure kids get at least one hour of physical activity a day. Fun activities work best – try bicycling, dancing, jumping rope, playing basketball or going for a walk.
- Limit children’s TV, video game and Internet use.
- Prepare healthful meals at home. Offer children fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack.
- Don’t let children drink their calories. Choose water and low-fat milk, not juice or high-calorie, sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas.
- Encourage children to take advantage of healthy food choices provided at school.
“The clear associations between fitness and academic achievement highlighted in the report underline the importance of educating the whole child,” said Santiago Taveras, Deputy Chancellor I.A. of the DOE’s Office of Teaching and Learning.
“Under Mayor Bloomberg, the Health Department and the Department of Education have formed a unique partnership to address critical issues in the areas of public health and public education,” said Dr. Roger Platt, director of the Office of School Health, which is jointly run by the two agencies. “This dual-agency collaboration is a model for how a comprehensive approach to student wellness can help support both student health and academic achievement.”
“Our students need high-quality fitness and health education in order to succeed in school and in life,” said Lori Rose Benson, director of Department of Education’s Office of Fitness and Health Education. “The results of this study reinforce the importance of the work that teachers and administrators throughout the city do on a daily basis to provide all children with the opportunities and knowledge to improve their health and fitness.”
The Office of Fitness and Health Education was created by Mayor Bloomberg to help New York City’s 1.1 million public school students excel in both of these critical areas. It is supported by both the Health Department and the Department of Education, which collaborate closely to leverage resources, programs, and instructional opportunities in all public schools with the goal of improving student achievement. NYC FITNESSGRAM is the citywide fitness assessment that is part of physical education. It measures aerobic capacity, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Students and parents receive annual individual reports that explain the significance of each measure and provide suggestions to help students reach and maintain lifelong health-related fitness. NYC FITNESSGRAM was adapted from FITNESSGRAM/ACTIVITYGRAM8.0, an assessment tool owned by the Cooper Institute and published by Human Kinetics.