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- Definition: Percentage of public school students in grades 5, 7, and 9 meeting six of six fitness standards (e.g., in 2017, 24.9% of California 5th graders met all fitness standards).
- Data Source: California Dept. of Education, Physical Fitness Testing Research Files (Jan. 2018).
- Footnote: Years presented are the final year of a school year (e.g., 2016-2017 is shown as 2017). In order to meet all fitness standards, students must score in the "Healthy Fitness Zone" on six of six fitness areas (upper body strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, and trunk strength). These data may not be comparable with data from earlier years because new standards were applied to the aerobic capacity and body composition fitness areas in 2011. The notation S refers to data that have been suppressed because 20 or fewer students in that group were tested, 20 or fewer met all six standards, or the grade level is not offered in that district. N/A means that data are not available.
- Measures of Physical Fitness on Kidsdata.org
On kidsdata.org, indicators of physical fitness include the percentage of public school students in grades 5, 7, and 9 scoring in the "Healthy Fitness Zone" on all six areas (upper body strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, and trunk strength) of California's physical fitness test, the Fitnessgram assessment. These data are available by grade level, gender, and race/ethnicity.
School staff reports on the extent to which their school provides opportunities for physical education and activity and the share of students at school who are healthy and physically fit also are provided.
- Physical Fitness
- Children Drinking One or More Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Per Day
- Children Who Eat Five or More Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Daily, by Age Group
- Children Who Ate Fast Food Two or More Times in the Past Week, by Age Group
- Students Who Ate Breakfast in the Past Day, by Grade Level
- Healthy Food Choices Provided at School (Staff Reported)
- Why This Topic Is Important
Regular physical activity promotes health and well being. Consistent exercise is associated with improvements in muscle development, bone strength, weight control, heart health, mental health, and academic performance in young people (1, 2). Children who exercise regularly also are at lower risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and they are more likely to carry their active lifestyles into adulthood (1, 2).
Health experts recommend that children and adolescents ages 6-17 participate in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for a minimum of 60 minutes each day (1, 2). Exercise should include aerobic activity (e.g., running or bicycling), muscle strengthening (e.g., push-ups), and bone strengthening (e.g., jumping rope), each at least 3 days per week (1). However, the majority of young people nationwide do not get this recommended amount of physical activity (1, 2). Further, inequities by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status persist, with children of color less likely to meet recommended levels of exercise and low-income communities offering fewer opportunities for children to be physically active (3, 4).Find more information about children's physical fitness in kidsdata.org's Research & Links section. Also see kidsdata.org's Weight topic for information about overweight and obese youth.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Physical activity facts. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/facts.htm
2. Child Trends Databank. (2017). Vigorous physical activity by youth. Retrieved from: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=vigorous-physical-activity-by-youth
3. National Physical Activity Plan Alliance. (2016). The 2016 United States report card on physical activity for children and youth. Retrieved from: http://www.physicalactivityplan.org/projects/reportcard.html
4. As cited on kidsdata.org, Students meeting all fitness standards, by race/ethnicity and grade level. (2018). California Department of Education, Physical Fitness Testing Research Files.
- How Children Are Faring
In 2017, about one in four California 5th graders met all state fitness standards, a figure that has remained relatively stable since 2011. During the same period, higher percentages of students in grades 7 and 9 met all fitness standards: 31% and 35%, respectively, in 2017. Among groups with data, Asian American, Filipino, white, and multiracial students were more likely to meet fitness standards than their Hispanic/Latino, African American/black, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native peers. In 2017, more than one-third of Asian American and white 5th graders met all fitness standards, compared to fewer than one-fifth of their Hispanic/Latino counterparts.
At the local level, there is wide variation in the percentage of students meeting fitness standards. For 5th graders in 2017, across locations with data, figures ranged from 13% to 78% at the county level and from 4% to 83% among school districts.
In 2013-2015, 11% of responses from elementary public school staff in California reported that nearly all students at their school were healthy and physically fit; this compares to 9% of responses from middle school staff, 6% from high school staff, and 5% from non-traditional program staff. When asked about opportunities for physical education and activity available at their school, 74% of responses by middle school staff indicated that these were provided a lot, followed by 58% of responses from elementary school staff, 56% of responses from high school staff, and 39% of responses from staff at non-traditional programs.
- Policy Implications
Physical fitness is linked to positive health and academic outcomes, and it plays a key role in helping young people achieve and maintain a healthy weight (1). Most youth, statewide and nationally, do not meet recommended standards for physical activity or fitness (1, 2). While California has been a leader in advancing policies to promote physical fitness and combat childhood obesity, the state, along with other states, continues to face large disparities in fitness levels and obesity rates by socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity (2, 3, 4).
Local, state, and federal policymakers can promote children’s physical fitness by preserving and effectively implementing existing policies and by making additional investments and policy changes in early childhood settings, schools, and communities. For example, California has set physical education requirements for schools but not all schools meet them (5, 6). Low-income, Hispanic/Latino, and African American/black students are more likely to attend schools that are not compliant with physical education mandates than white and higher-income students (5, 6). Improving youth fitness also requires equitable access to safe places to play and built environments that encourage physical activity, both in schools and communities (7, 8, 9).
Policy options that could improve children’s physical activity include:
For more policy ideas about promoting physical activity among children, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section, Active Living Research, or Action for Healthy Kids. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under Weight and Nutrition.
- Ensuring adequate funding, support, and compliance monitoring systems so that all schools meet or exceed state physical education (PE) requirements; also, encouraging schools to adopt comprehensive physical activity programs that include evidence-based PE with qualified teachers, daily physical activity during school beyond PE classes, and physical activity before and after school, with involvement from staff, families, and the community (6, 7, 8, 9)
- Continuing to promote walk to school and Safe Routes to School programs, to increase the number of children walking or biking to school (7, 8, 10)
- Encouraging schools to make recreational facilities available for use outside of school hours, especially in neighborhoods that lack such facilities; state and federal policies support joint-use agreements between schools and community organizations for this purpose (3, 7, 10)
- Strengthening and ensuring implementation of policies to promote physical activity in after-school and early childhood settings, including staff training on existing guidelines, and supporting development of evidence-based physical activity programs in these settings; also increasing the accessibility and affordability of such programs in low-income neighborhoods (3, 7, 9, 11)
- Promoting collaboration across sectors to address structural barriers that limit opportunities for physical activity, especially in low-income areas and communities of color; for example, incorporating health priorities into transportation and community planning to create safe built environments that encourage walking/biking and provide access to parks, recreation centers, or other places for play and physical activity (7, 9, 10)
- Supporting comprehensive public health initiatives that utilize best practices to promote physical activity and include effective planning, leadership, evaluation, research, and advocacy (3, 9)
Sources for this narrative:
1. Child Trends Databank. (2017). Vigorous physical activity by youth. Retrieved from: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=vigorous-physical-activity-by-youth
2. As cited on kidsdata.org, Students meeting all fitness standards. (2018). California Department of Education, Physical Fitness Testing Research Files.
3. The State of Obesity. (n.d.). The state of obesity in California. Trust for America's Health & Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from: https://stateofobesity.org/states/ca
4. California Department of Public Health, & Nutrition Policy Institute. (2016). Obesity in California: The weight of the state, 2000-2014. Retrieved from: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CCDPHP/DCDIC/NEOPB/CDPH%20Document%20Library/RES_CAObesityReport_Website.pdf
5. Sanchez-Vaznaugh, E. V., et al. (2017). Physical education policy compliance and Latino children’s fitness: Does the association vary by school neighborhood socioeconomic advantage? PLoS ONE, 12(6), e0178980. Retrieved from: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0178980
6. Collins, A., & García, R. (2015). Physical education for all California public school students. The City Project. Retrieved from: https://www.cityprojectca.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Physical-Education-for-All-201503061.pdf
7. California Department of Public Health. (2018). Physical activity resource guide: Implementing physical activity programming for SNAP-eligible populations (2nd ed.). Retrieved from: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CCDPHP/DCDIC/NEOPB/CDPH%20Document%20Library/Final%20PARG%206.2.18.pdf
8. California Department of Education. (2017). Team California for Healthy Kids–Physical activity. Retrieved from: http://www.cde.ca.gov/pd/ca/pe/tchk-pe.asp
9. Pate, R. R., et al. (2016). Policies for promotion of physical activity and prevention of obesity in adolescence. Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness, 14(2), 47-53. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1728869X1630154X
10. California Department of Public Health, Division of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health. (2017). Systems and environmental change–Physical activity. Retrieved from: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CFH/DMCAH/NUPA/Pages/Systems-and-Environmental-Change-Physical-Activity.aspx
11. Cradock, A. L., et al. (2017). Using cost-effectiveness analysis to prioritize policy and programmatic approaches to physical activity promotion and obesity prevention in childhood. Preventive Medicine, 95(Suppl.), S17-S27. Retrieved from: https://activelivingresearch.org/using-cost-effectiveness-analysis-prioritize-policy-and-programmatic-approaches-physical-activity
- Websites with Related Information
- Action for Healthy Kids
- Active Living Research, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- Alliance for a Healthier Generation
- California After School Network: Physical Activity Resources
- California Project LEAN
- Champions for Change, California Dept. of Public Health
- Healthy Schools, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Physical Activity Plan Alliance
- Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative, California Dept. of Public Health, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Division
- Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Physical Activity and Children and Adolescents Knowledge Path, National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health
- Team California for Healthy Kids, California Dept. of Education
- The Community Guide: Physical Activity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Key Reports and Research
- Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance, 2015, Active Living Research, Castelli, D. M., et al.
- Adolescent Physical Activity: Role of School Support, Role Models, and Social Participation in Racial and Income Disparities, 2015, Environment and Behavior, Babey, S. H., et al.
- Early Care and Education Policies and Programs to Support Healthy Eating and Physical Activity: Best Practices and Changes Over Time, 2017, Healthy Eating Research, Fox, T., et al.
- Framework for Action: Addressing Nutrition and Physical Activity through ESSA Implementation, Alliance for a Healthier Generation & Healthy Schools Campaign
- Improving Community Health, One Neighborhood at a Time, 2018, Research to Action, Nutrition Policy Institute
- Neighborhood Characteristics and Children’s Physical Activity, 2014, Child Trends, Cooper, M., & Murphey, D.
- Physical Activity Opportunities in Afterschool Programs, 2015, Health Promotion Practice, Weaver, R. G., et al.
- Physical Activity Resource Guide: Implementing Physical Activity Programming for SNAP-Eligible Populations (2nd ed.), 2018, California Dept. of Public Health
- Physical Education Policy Compliance and Latino Children’s Fitness: Does the Association Vary by School Neighborhood Socioeconomic Advantage?, 2017, PLoS ONE, Sanchez-Vaznaugh, E. V., et al.
- Policies for Promotion of Physical Activity and Prevention of Obesity in Adolescence, 2016, Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness, Pate, R. R., et al.
- The Influence of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior on Health-Related Quality of Life Among the General Population of Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review, 2017, PLoS ONE, Wu, X. Y., et al.
- The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model, 2015, Journal of School Health, Hunt, H. (Ed.)
- United States Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, 2016, National Physical Activity Plan Alliance
- Using Cost-Effectiveness Analysis to Prioritize Policy and Programmatic Approaches to Physical Activity Promotion and Obesity Prevention in Childhood, 2017, Preventive Medicine, Cradock, A. L., et al.
- County/Regional Reports
- 2014 Solano Children's Report Card, Children's Network of Solano County
- 2017 Kern County Report Card, Kern County Network for Children
- 2017 Wellbeing Index Findings Summary, City of Santa Monica & RAND Corporation
- Key Indicators of Health by Service Planning Area, 2017, Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health
- Santa Clara County Children's Agenda: 2018 Data Book, Planned Parenthood & Kids in Common
- Santa Clara County Public Health Department: Health Data and Statistics
- Santa Monica Youth Wellbeing Report Card, Santa Monica Cradle to Career
- The 24th Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County, 2018, Orange County Children's Partnership
- More Data Sources For Physical Fitness
- California Health Interview Survey, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research
- California School Climate, Health, and Learning Surveys Data Dashboard, WestEd & California Dept. of Education
- Child Trends Databank: Vigorous Physical Activity by Youth
- County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation & University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute
- DataQuest, California Dept. of Education
- Education Data Partnership (Ed-Data), California Dept. of Education, et al.
- NHANES National Youth Fitness Survey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity: Data, Trends, and Maps, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- SNAP-Ed County Profiles, California Dept. of Public Health
- Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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