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Contact: Christine Payton April 23, 2010
(337) 482-6397, payton@louisiana.edu
More Than 14,000 Children Participate in Health-Related Physical Fitness Assessment
Almost 1 in 3 Louisiana schoolchildren are classified as obese, and 1 in 5 children are considered overweight, according to the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

These results come shortly after the state’s passage of Act 256, which was signed into law during the 2009 legislative session to deal with the rise in childhood obesity, as well as Michelle Obama’s recent national “Let’s Move” campaign to curb childhood obesity.

Act 256 calls for the expansion of health-related physical fitness assessments currently being implemented in schools throughout 12 parishes participating in a Coordinated School Health initiative, with the eventual goal of statewide implementation. This act also coordinates key entities in Louisiana to work together to positively impact the problem of childhood obesity. Among the participating agencies are the Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the Louisiana Department of Education, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and the Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention and Management.

During fall 2009, more than 14,000 schoolchildren in six pilot school districts participated in a health-related physical fitness assessment called the Fitnessgram. Based on factors essential to overall health and function, the Fitnessgram measures aerobic capacity, muscular strength, endurance, flexibility and body mass index (BMI).

Preliminary analyses from the fall 2009 Fitnessgram administration reveal:

• 4,532 students are considered obese, and 2,814 are classified as overweight, according to student body mass index measurements.

• Obesity rates vary among ethnic groups, with 30% of white schoolchildren and 36% of African American students considered obese.

• As students age, they tend to become less physically fit. The average aerobic capacity passage rate of a 10-year-old Louisiana student was 56.6%. This passage rate then sharply declined with a student’s increase in age. By the time an average student took the aerobic subtest at 15 years old, the passage rate reached an overall low of 19.4%.

• African American students also scored an average of 6% lower than white peers in the aerobic capacity subtest.

Health Rating Number of Students Percentage

Healthy 6,755 47
Obese 4,532 32
Overweight 2,814 20
Underweight 204 1
Total 14,305 100
*according to BMI measurements.

“Numerous state and private agencies across Louisiana are developing interventions to put a stop to the alarming rise in childhood obesity, and our role in the legislation is to keep track of how well that effort is going,” noted Dr. Billy R. Stokes, Executive Director of the Picard Center. Continuing, he stated, “We’ve seen over three decades of children gaining weight due to poor eating habits, a decrease in physical activity, and an increase in television and media use. Turning this trend around will take time, but we’re headed in the right direction by collecting the right data to use for effective interventions.”

Spring 2010 Fitnessgram training for teachers and student administration is gearing up for April and May. The Picard Center expects to have more than 20,000 students participate in spring Fitnessgram administration. Further, the Picard Center is planning to replicate a study that was recently conducted in Texas that correlates physical fitness assessment results to academic outcomes and behavior incidences.

“ This is an opportunity to investigate the relationship between student academic performance and physical fitness on Louisiana students. The results of this type of study can directly help principals, school superintendents and school boards as well as state agencies implement policies that foster both physical and intellectual health,” said Dr. Holly Howat, Project Director for the Fitnessgram Administration at the Picard Center.

School Districts Performing Fitness Assessments for 2009-10 School Year

• Caddo
• DeSoto
• Jefferson
• Lafayette
• Lincoln
• Natchitoches
• Ouachita
• Red River
• Sabine
• St. Charles
• St. Martin
• St. Mary
• West Baton Rouge
• West Feliciana
(Data sharing with Well Pro)
• Monroe City
• Morehouse

After final analysis of Fitnessgram results for fall 2009 and spring 2010, the Act 256 agencies will collaborate with the Obesity Council and other universities to identify best practices for overall health of students and effective interventions to address identified needs of underweight children, overweight children and children identified at high risk for chronic health problems.

The Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning is a research center comprised of a multidisciplinary group of evaluation and research professionals who focus on early childhood, K-12 education, school-based health, poverty’s effects on families, and lifelong learning. As an integral part of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s research mission, the Center provides high-quality, rigorous evaluations of programs that are implemented to address learning from birth through adulthood. Applied research is continually conducted in all areas of education, health, and well-being to ensure a prosperous and healthy future for all of Louisiana's children.

Document last revised Monday, April 26, 2010 2:15 PM

Copyright 2003 by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette
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