Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fitter Kids Equals Better Grades?

New research exploring how physical fitness can influence children's scores on standardized tests may make parents want to sign their kids up for more sports-related activities.

The research, conducted by the Center for Sport Psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton, was presented at the 2012 American Psychological Association's convention in Orlando in early August.

The subjects were 1,211 boys and girls from five suburban middle schools throughout Texas. Fifty-seven percent of the children were Caucasian, 25 percent were Hispanic, 9 percent were African American and 2 percent were Asian American.

Researchers tested the children's physical fitness during physical education classes. Researchers looked at aerobic capacity, body mass index (BMI), muscular strength and endurance, and agility. The researchers also distributed questionnaires to the children, designed to assess their self-esteem, their social support networks, their views of their own academic abilities, and their typical exercise patterns.

One to five months following this process, the schools carried out the periodic standardized testing mandated by law at each grade level.

The schools then provided researchers with information about the children's age, race and school grade, as well as their scores on standardized math and reading tests. The schools also provided information about whether the children qualified for the school's free lunch program, a proxy for the children's socioeconomic status.

Researchers correlated information derived from these two sources to come up with their conclusions. After adjusting for age, sex, self-esteem and socioeconomic status, they found a strong correlation between cardio respiratory fitness and standardized test scores. The more aerobically fit children were, the more likely they were to score above average on standardized math and reading tests.

Aerobic fitness was the only factor researchers studied that correlated with high math scores. High reading scores, however, were correlated with other factors. In boys, high reading scores were also correlated with the boys' perceptions of the strength of their own social support systems. In girls, high reading scores were also correlated with higher BMIs. The researchers did not attempt to explain these results.

This research builds on convincing evidence presented in several previous studies that also examined the relationship between physical activity in kids and academic performance.

Pediatricians and psychologists who attended the American Psychological Association presentation said that they hoped the new research would inspire school administrators to improve Physical Education classes and increase access to after-school sports and outdoor activities. Parents can help their children succeed by emphasizing well-rounded behaviors, rather than outstanding performance in a narrow academic niche.

This research was funded by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. Research methodology will have to undergo peer review before the study can be published in a medical or professional journal.

Fitter Kids Equals Better Grades is a guest post written for Fun 4 The Children.

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