March 4, 2012: The first comprehensive assessment of the California Department of Education's Physical Fitness Test (PFT), administered to 5th, 7th and 9th graders as part of the state's obesity prevention program, finds the rate of obesity has slowed to 0.33% per year, an improvement on rates in previous decades in national studies (between 0.8 to 1.7 %), reports Melissa Healy for the Los Angeles Times Booster Shots Blog.
The least encouraging results were found among younger students and in counties with low-income families.
Researchers, led by Dr. William Bommer, at left, UC Davis School of Medicine (who also served on the state's Task Force for Childhood Obesity in 2004), examined PFT data on a total of 6.3 million students from 2003 to 2008 and found growth in obesity rates was greatest among younger kids between kindergarten and 5th grade.
Despite improvements in school nutrition and fitness levels, children who were obese in the fifth grade tended to remain obese in subsequent years, said Bommer, "And we suspect this trend begins before kindergarten," he added.
That suggests that targeting kids as soon as they arrive at school might be the best way to drive down future obesity levels and build fitness. "We will need to consider new interventions for the K-through-five students," the authors declared.
Poorer fitness and body composition scores were consistently seen in counties with lower incomes and higher levels of unemployment. African Americans and Latinos had less lean body composition score than Asian and non-Latino white kids and lagged behind those groups in measures of abdominal strength and trunk extensor strength (basically, the ability to lift the upper torso off the floor).
Among the findings of the study:
In all, 35.4% of California schoolchildren were overweight or obese in 2008 (17.44% overweight and 17.96% obese).
Body composition did drift upward in all grade groups, despite a decline among Asian and non-Latino white kids, and among girls in general.
The number of kids who achieved a perfect fitness score -- meeting fitness standards in all six categories -- went from 28.98% in 2003 to 34.84% in 2008.
There was an improvement in childrens' aerobic capacity, which authors said strongly suggests that kids stepped up their levels of physical activity in the six-year period.
The study was published in February's edition of the American Heart Journal.
Written for California's Children by Elizabeth J Carlyle.