Friday, November 12, 2010

The FitnessGram and Childhood obesity

Note: The MoneyWalker's journal entries are at the end of this blog.

Feature Entry: The FitnessGram and Childhood obesity

Recently the MoneyWalker was invited to a Past Presidents Reception sponsored by the Louisiana Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (LAHPERD). We had no agenda except small talk and past pleasures, but the informal conversation eventually led to two topics of interest for this blog. One was “exercise as medicine” and the other was childhood obesity. We eventually talked about what Louisiana schools could do to reverse what has become a national epidemic according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One solution was to adopt the well established FitnessGram, a product of the world-famous Cooper Aerobics Center of Dallas, Texas.

Two states, Texas and Delaware require that the physical fitness assessment tool be administered each year. In Texas, all 3rd through 12 grade students are administered the test and the results sent to parents. Students do not “pass” or “fail” the tests, rather they are evaluated against established standards denoting a healthy level of fitness including the body fat index, a measure that sends cautions for both anorexia and overweight/obesity.

Data from the mandated test indicate that 42 percent of Texas’s 4th graders are overweight and 36 percent of 11th graders were overweight. Other data point out that the Texas data reflects similar findings in most U.S. state. There are six sub-scales in the FitnessGram—aerobic capacity (the ability of the body to sustain long bouts of cardio respiratory work), body composition, muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility.

One interesting finding from the Cooper researchers is the existence of a strong correlation between physical fitness and academic performance: “There is a direct correlation between a student's physical fitness and school performance. Data shows that students who were able to achieve a Healthy Fitness Zone in at least five out of six FITNESSGRAM tests scored higher academically and had fewer discipline problems in school.” However, caution should be followed before interpreting this data as causal. For example, we know that being overweight is also highly correlated with stress, anxiety, and lower self-esteem. These factors are also associated with academic performance. Perhaps it is a more positive self-image that is driving the better grades data.

Accompanying the FitnessGram sent to parents is the Cooper Fitness Activity Pyramid designed to resemble the popular CDC food pyramid. At the activity base is “lifestyle activity.” The second level is “aerobic activity” and “aerobic sports”; third is “muscular activity” and “flexibility activity”; and the apex is “rest.” Examples of lifestyle activity include walking, bicycling, playing active games, and work-active jobs. Aerobic activity examples include aerobic dance and running while aerobic sports include field sports such as football and soccer. Examples from the third level, muscular activity and flexibility activity, include gymnastics, weight lifting, stretching, and yoga. The rest level includes school work, home work, reading, computer games/TV/videos, eating, and sleep.

The levels are not value ordered. The Cooper pyramid is provided as a simple way to inform students and their parents of what activities promote a healthy lifestyle and that prevent problems associated with becoming overweight.

As might be expected, there has been pushback from parents and others concerning the Texas requirement. Harriet Brown’s popular blog, Brave Girl Eating, and the parent of a daughter diagnosed as anorexic suggest that an unintended consequence of the Texas law is to promote anorexia in school children. Others have warned that the test will damage the self-esteem of the children in that it amounts to a negative external motivator, fear of peer labeling and bullying to pressure school children to follow unproven “best practices” for maintaining or achieving health related physical fitness practices. Still others reported that schools should be spending scare resources on more academic pursuits.

The length of this blog is already beyond the MoneyWalker’s knowledge of how long a blog can hold the attention of his readers. A future blog will address the motivation issue. In the mean time, we applaud Louisiana’s effort to follow Texas’s lead in their effort to combat the rapidly growing problem of childhood and youth’s alarming propensity to be overweight.


Journal Entries: November 5, 2010 through November 10, 2010

Nov. 5: Weight = 175.8; Coinage = $2.09, 53 pennies, 2 nickels, 7 dimes, 3 quarters; 5 Glass bottles; 3 ground scores.

Nov. 6: weight = 173.6 lbs.; Coinage = $3.31, 56 pennies, 2 nickels, 9 dimes, 5 quarters (one super find and one wheat); ten glass bottles, 5 ground scores.

Nov. 7: Weight = 176.0 lbs.; Coinage = $6.17, 122 pennies, 17 nickels, 21 dimes, 8 quarters (two super finds including $1.75 in a newspaper coin return); one glass bottle; 8 ground scores.

Nov. 8: Weight – 175.2 lbs; Coinage = $4.52, 72 pennies, 9 nickels, 11 dimes, 9 quarters; four glass bottles; 3 ground scores (two more super finds).

Nov. 9: Weight = 174.4 lbs; Coinage = $3.95, 35 pennies, 2 nickels, 14 quarters (13 quarters provided by Jason at the Mid-City Car Wash as a donation to the Friendship House); 14 glass bottles.

Nov. 10: Weight = 174.0 lbs; Coinage = $2.10, 70 pennies, 3 nickels, 5 dimes, 3 quarters; 3 glass bottles; 5 ground scores.

Note, each of the six day reports above indicated a coinage total of $2.00 or more value, easily a MoneyWalker record.


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