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Big Share of Calif. Students Deemed Physically Unfit

For the second straight year, only 31 percent of 5th, 7th, and 9th graders in California were able to pass all six components of the state's physical-fitness test during the 2011-12 school year, the state education department announced Thursday.

On the Calif. fitness test, students are measured in six areas: aerobic capacity, abdominal strength, body composition, flexibility, trunk-extension strength, and upper-body strength.

From there, students are grouped into categories based on performance. The goal for all students is to qualify for the "healthy fitness zone" (HFZ); otherwise, they fall into either "needs improvement" or "needs improvement—high risk" groupings.

During the 2011-12 school year, more than 1.3 million 5th, 7th, and 9th graders took the fitness test, but results were highly variable. Students in all three grades tested best in terms of trunk-extension strength, which was measured by a trunk lift, and worst in terms of body composition, which was measured either by skin-fold measurements or by taking a student's body mass index.

More specifically: 86.8 percent of 5th graders, 89.5 percent of 7th graders, and 91.4 percent of 9th graders fell into the HFZ for trunk-extension strength, while only 52.5 percent of 5th graders, 55.4 percent of 7th graders, and 59 percent of 9th graders were in the HFZ for body composition, according to the 2011-12 results.

Overall, less than one-third of students in all three grades were able to fall into the HFZ for all six fitness areas tested.

"When we can call fewer than one out of three of our kids physically fit, we know we have a tremendous public-health challenge on our hands," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement, according to The Press-Enterprise. (The statement isn't yet posted on the Calif. Dept. of Ed. website, but I've emailed the department for a copy.)

There's no question that childhood obesity and a lack of physical fitness are grave challenges facing the nation, but like last year, it's important to note what students had to accomplish to be deemed "physically fit" by the California test.

To fall into the HFZ, a 13-year-old male needed a BMI less than or equal to 21.4 and would need to perform at least 21 curl-ups (or "crunches") and at least 12 push-ups or eight pull-ups. A 13-year-old female would need a BMI less than or equal to 22, would need to perform at least 18 curl-ups, and would either be required to do at least seven push-ups or at least four modified pull-ups.

In other words: Passing all six components of the fitness test wasn't exactly a cake walk.

If anything, the findings about body composition may be more of a concern for the state than the fact that only 31 percent of the students who took the test met the HFZ in all six fitness areas.

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