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Only 31 Percent of Calif. Students Deemed Physically Fit

The latest physical-fitness results for California students are in, and the findings aren't pretty.

Only 31 percent of students were able to pass all six components of the state's 2011 Physical Fitness Test, according to findings from the state department of education released yesterday.

Ninety-three percent of all students enrolled in 5th, 7th, and 9th grades—1.34 million in total—took the fitness test this past year. Students were measured in six "fitness areas": aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper-body strength, and flexibility.

Based on their results in the first two areas, students got separated into three categories: in the "healthy-fitness zone" (HFZ), "needs improvement," or "needs improvement-high risk." In the last four fitness areas, students could either be in the HFZ or in the needs-improvement group.

Alarmingly, 34.1 percent of 5th graders, 30.3 percent of 7th graders, and 25 percent of 9th graders all fell into the "needs improvement-high risk" group for their body composition. The report says that "students in this area have the potential for future health problems."

"Today's results are clear: When only 31 percent of children are physically fit, that's a public-health challenge we can't wait to address," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement. "That's where our Team California for Healthy Kids campaign can make a world of difference, by helping make healthy choices the easy choices, at school and beyond."

Should We Be Surprised?

After taking a closer examination of the California statistics, these findings likely shouldn't be considered surprising.

First and foremost: As stated in the release from the Calif. education department, a 5-foot-6-inch, 150-pound, 15-year-old male would need to be able to run a mile in under nine minutes, perform 16 or more pushups, and complete at least 24 curl-ups (or "crunches") to fall into the HFZ.

I don't know about you, readers, but my 15-year-old self would have failed that fitness test. (The thought of doing five pushups back then is comical.) The trunk-test requirement—where students lie on their stomachs and raise their torso off the ground using their back muscles—would give me trouble today, even.

The fact is, students could fall into the HFZ in five of the six fitness areas, but if they fall short on one, they aren't counted as "physically fit" in these statistics.

Given that, isn't it somewhat impressive that 31 percent of all students met all six fitness benchmarks? More specifically, 25.2 percent of 5th graders, 32.0 percent of 7th graders, and 36.8 percent of 9th graders fell into the HFZ in all six areas this past year.

Looking Back ... and Forward

How does that compare with years past? The Dept. of Ed. released a chart comparing passing rates on the fitness test from 2006 through 2011, and the older students get, the better the numbers become.

For instance: In 2006, only 27.4 percent of 9th graders were meeting all six fitness benchmarks on the state fitness test. Among 9th graders, 36.8 percent achieved that same accomplishment in 2011. Meanwhile, there's been a 2.4 percent increase in the number of 7th graders passing the test over the past five years and a 0.4 percent decrease in the number of 5th graders passing.

All three grades saw a decline in the number of students who met all six fitness benchmarks from 2010 to 2011, which can largely be attributed to changes in the body-composition requirements for students. Without getting too much into the nitty-gritty, the test reduced the acceptable range of BMIs and body-fat percentages of students.

When applying 2010 standards of body composition, 70.2 percent of 5th graders, 69.7 percent of 7th graders, and 72.4 percent of 9th-graders fell into the HFZ. This year, those numbers dropped across the board, to 52.1 percent, 55.5 percent, and 59.4 percent, respectively. (That's more than a 10 percent drop in each grade.)

Long story short: The numbers presented here aren't necessarily as bleak as they seem. (At least, no more bleak than in years past.)

And with 1.3 million California teens not participating in any school-based physical education whatsoever, as a policy brief released earlier this year by the UCLA Center for Health Policy asserts, it's somewhat miraculous that nearly a third of students completed all six objectives on the statewide fitness test.

With all that said, this blog does tip its hat to Torlakson for taking these fitness results as a call-to-action. We're looking forward to seeing how the state Dept. of Ed. addresses the youth-obesity crisis in California, and what role physical education classes can play.

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