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Studies: Overweight kids score lower on academic tests

Studies: Overweight kids score lower on academic tests



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SALT LAKE CITY -- More studies seem to show obese kids do worse in school. In other words, fitter students do better on tests than fatter students.

New York Study

In the latest study, New York students who were in the top 5 percent for fitness scored 36 percentage points higher on state reading and math tests than did the least-fit 5 percent.

"There's so much evidence now showing the importance of physical activity and physical fitness for academic achievement," said James Hannon, an assistant professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Utah. "The biggest take home message from a lot of the research is the fact that more physical activity does not hinder academic achievement."

School Fitness Programs

Hannon stressed the importance of physical education programs in schools. "In reality, (recess and PE) are important to improve not just a student's academic capabilities while they are in school, but also to have an effect on their health," he said.

Dave Phillips teaches physical education at the University of Utah. He says studies even show that exercise right before a test boosts scores.

"When you exercise moderate to vigorously for say 20 to 30 minutes, there's an increase of chemicals and blood flow to the brain. They help you become alert and help you focus. They become agents of change, really," he said. "That basically gives you a platform for learning, so you can go into a test more motivated, more invigorated, more ready to take the test and more capable of learning."

Naperville Study

Phillips says the best example of this is in the Naperville Community Unit School District 203 in Naperville, Ill.

"The aim of the PE teachers is to build brain cells. They put students through vigorous physical activity right before classes and tests, and their grades have gone up quite substantially," he said.

Phillips says normally students from Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan dominate an international competition called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). However when these students from Illinois entered the TIMSS-R (repeat), they finished first in the world in science and sixth in math.

Program Cuts

Despite these studies showing a connection between mind and body, Hannon says recess and PE time are getting cut from schools in the name of making more time for academics.

"Decisions are supposed to be guided by research. There's so much evidence now showing the importance of physical activity and physical fitness for academic achievement, but for some reason people decide to ignore the facts, and take away activity time from kids, take away physical education class, take away recess," he said.

Phillips agrees.

"PE has always been looked at as a problem, but really it's the potential answer," he said. "There's been so much emphasis on testing the kids, there's less curriculum time for PE and less budget for PE."

Recess is getting cut, too.

"If you think about it, who can sit for hours upon hours and concentrate? Especially a child. A child's attention span is much shorter than an adult's," said Hannon.

E-mail: mrichards@ksl.com

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Mary Richards

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