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More than two-thirds of Texas schoolchildren flunked the state’s physical fitness test this year, a troubling trend that doctors worry could worsen with the Legislature loosening the requirements for high school gym class, the Houston Chronicle reports.
The bright spot among the newly released state data involves elementary and middle school students, who met the healthy benchmarks at slightly higher rates than they did two years ago when Texas became the first state to mandate annual fitness testing.
Third-grade girls continued to perform the best this year, with 37 percent passing all six tests, which involve running, strength and flexibility exercises and a body fat measure.
High school seniors did the worst, with about 8 percent of each gender meeting the standard.
Part of the problem is that today’s lifestyles are very different than a generation ago, said Laura Esparza, a researcher at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, the team behind SaludToday.
“We have essentially engineered physical activity out of our lives—most kids ride to school (cars, buses) instead of walk, many kids do not spend time playing outside in their free time, instead they stay inside and watch TV and play video games—the cumulative result is kids are less active and less physically fit,” Esparza said. “We need to be sure to support efforts to improve the quality of physical education offered to high school kids as well as the variety of activities offered. We also should support efforts outside of school to educate kids and their parents about the many benefits of a physically active lifestyle.”
One current program that aims to change these numbers is the IHPR’s unique collaboration with Girls Scouts.
Led by Dr. Deborah Parra-Medina and Esparza, the collaboration is bringing together Girl Scouts, parents and community leaders to collect information and discover the enablers and barriers to physical activity among Latina girls ages 11-14. The researchers will use this information to devise new strategies to get girls moving. They plan to use low-cost mobile and wireless technology, like text-messaging.
“Regular activity, in school and out, is what will change those fitness numbers,” Esparza said.