By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter
Aerobic fitness significantly predicts academic performance in school age children and adolescents independently of body mass index (BMI) and socioeconomic status, show study findings.
Insufficient fitness and a high BMI in children are associated with long-term adverse health outcomes, but their impacts on academic performance have been less clear.
To investigate further, Robert Rauner (Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln, Nebraska, USA) and colleagues assessed the impact of aerobic fitness on Nebraska State Accountability (NeSA) math and reading tests in 11,743 fourth- to eighth-grade students (age 9-14 years) from 47 schools.
Overall, 69% of the students were defined as being aerobically fit due to entering the healthy fitness zone (HFZ) of Fitnessgram's Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run, which has been previously validated as an accurate measure of fitness.
As reported in The Journal of Pediatrics, significantly more fit students passed the NeSA math (80.5%) and reading (84.3%) tests compared with unfit students (65.8% and 71.3%, respectively). This association remained valid after adjusting for covariates such as BMI percentile, gender, ethnicity, and grade level.
The team found an association between fitness and low socioeconomic status, as defined by a free/reduced lunch status. Although aerobically fit students had a better chance of passing both NeSA tests than unfit students regardless of lunch status, there was a greater between group difference among students who did not receive a free/reduced lunch than among those who did.
Specifically, aerobically fit students who did not receive a free/reduced lunch were 2.41- and 2.23-fold more likely to pass the NeSA math and reading tests, respectively, than unfit students who did not receive a free/reduced lunch. The corresponding odds for passing the tests in aerobically fit versus unfit students who did receive a free/reduced lunch were increased 1.68- and 1.56-fold.
"Although decreasing BMI for an overweight or obese child undoubtedly improves overall health, results indicated all students benefit academically from being aerobically fit regardless of weight or free/reduced lunch status. Therefore, to improve academic performance, school systems should focus on the aerobic fitness of every student," conclude Rauner and colleagues.
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