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TribBlog: Study: Better Health = Better Grades

According to Stuck in the Middle: The False Choice Between Health and Education in Texas Middle Schools, school administrators are choosing between improving academic performance and improving fitness — and sacrificing both as a consequence.

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Texas school administrators are choosing between improving academic performance and improving fitness — and sacrificing both as a consequence, according to a new report commissioned by the RGK Foundation, at Texas nonprofit focused on health and education. 

The authors of the report, Stuck in the Middle: The False Choice Between Health and Education in Texas Middle Schools, say fitness enhances cognitive ability, leading to better test scores, grades and attendance. In the report, they call for legislative changes to make daily physical education standards in schools more rigorous.

The report says Texas Fitness Now grants, which have provided $30 million in public dollars to upgrade physical education infrastructure in middle schools since 2007, need to be continued. Currently, schools must be 60 percent or more economically disadvantaged to be eligible. But RGK recommends broadening the program's reach by changing the benchmark to 40 percent and requiring schools to contribute $5 per student.

RGK says the grants may be in jeopardy because of Texas' budget shortfall, but argues the long-term cost of unhealthy children is greater. Seventy percent of overweight children grow up to be overweight adults, which will cost Texas $39 billion annually by 2040, the study estimates. A 2010 assessment indicates 75 percent of Texas middle school children failed all six state fitness measures.

The report says Texas’ growing population of obese children will eventually threaten critical public services. The percentage of young Americans ineligible to serve in the military because of their weight is higher than those who can't serve because they fail to graduate high school. If they're so obese they can't serve in the military, they're often too obese to serve in local fire and police forces, leading to higher costs to recruit and train emergency workers.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, filed legislation for the upcoming session that would require 30 minutes of daily physical activity for middle school students for all three years, instead of the two years currently required. Her legislation would also increase physical education requirements for high school graduation.

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