Saturday, December 08, 2007


By Harrison Sheppard, Sacramento Bureau | Daily News

December 7 - SACRAMENTO - Youths in Los Angeles schools are less physically fit than their peers statewide, although they have improved a bit over last year, according to California fitness data released Thursday.

Less than 21percent of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District met all the criteria considered to comprise a healthy lifestyle, while the statewide average was 27-31percent.

But while kids in the LAUSD and across California improved by several points over last year's results, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said most children still have far to go before they can be considered in shape.

"It's a step in the right direction, but we need to do better," O'Connell said. "I attribute the improvement to increased awareness of the importance of our health. And our emphasis on appropriate physical activity in schools and good nutrition in schools."

In recent years, the state has banned soda and foods with a lot of calories from campuses and developed new standards for physical education, he said.

The annual statewide fitness test measured how well students in the fifth, seventh and ninth grades performed in a series of six fitness areas: aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper body strength and flexibility.

In the LAUSD, 20-21percent of kids met the criteria in all six areas; 25-26percent met five of the criteria.

The specific tests within the six areas included a one-mile run, a measurement of body fat, push-ups, pull-ups and stretching.

State officials said there is no specific target for the percentage of kids who should be meeting all six goals, primarily because they are basic criteria that all children should ideally be able to meet.

LAUSD officials said they are pleased that district students showed improvement, which they attributed to new efforts and funding over the past three or four years.

"Considering where we are, we have had some really remarkable improvement," said Jeanie Leighton, the district's director of middle school programs and K-12 physical education.

"When we started four years ago we realized we needed to work with our physical education programs because of the childhood-obesity situation and the tendency to have overweight children (developing) diabetes."

The district hired a physical-education adviser, which it had not had for many years, and held a massive professional development conference for some 3,000 physical-education teachers.

The district also has received more money under a new state grant program - about $26million to be spent in the next three years on professional development and physical-education equipment.

The results come amid renewed nationwide attention on a growing epidemic of childhood obesity. About 15percent of the country's children are considered obese, which is attributed to increased consumption of fast food and decreased physical activity.

Childhood obesity can lead to a range of health problems, including diabetes and high blood pressure.

Dr. Wendy Slusser, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA, said the latest fitness results reinforce the idea that society has far to go to address the problem.

"When I read these results, I say we're failing our children," Slusser said. "One of the greatest things that we can give them as they go through school is a robust physical-education program."

She noted the results were slightly worse for elementary school students than for middle and high school students. And she said that is likely because fewer elementary schools have dedicated physical-education teachers.

Slusser has worked with the LAUSD on programs to increase the supply of fruits and vegetables in school cafeterias, and praised the district for its renewed efforts to tackle the obesity problem in recent years.

"L.A. Unified has been incredibly open to changes in a positive way for the health and wellness of the children that they serve," Slusser said.

4LAKids NOTES: The fitness of children is abysmal. However the folks who created the FitnessGram - the test used to assess California schoolchildren's physical fitness - contend that the test is being misused by the state and the results misinterpreted. The FitnessGram was never intended to be a "pass" or "fail" assessment. The kids aren't failing, the system is failing!

LINK: 2007 Physical Fitness Test "results"

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