TMA Testimony: Fitnessgram

Testimony: Senate Bill 226 by Senator Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville)

Senate Education Committee
March 31, 2011
Presented by: Texas Medical Association, Texas Pediatric Society, Texas Academy of Family Physicians, and the Texas Public Health Coalition  

Madame Chair Shapiro and members of the Senate Education Committee, my name is Dr. Stephen Pont.  I am a pediatrician in Austin at Dell Children’s Medical Center where I serve as the Medical Director of the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity.  I am an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics with UT Southwestern in Austin and I serve as the Medical Director for Children’s/Austin Independent School District (AISD) Student Health Services.  I am here today on behalf of the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Pediatric Society, and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians which represents more than 48,000 physicians and medical students in the state along with the thousands of public health advocates that compose the Texas Public Health Coalition.  We believe that promoting physical activity on school campuses is a key to preventing obesity among our Texas children and are in full support of SB 226 by Senator Jane Nelson.  

The state of Texas is suffering from an obesity epidemic, which is most glaring among our youth. Obesity usually begins in childhood. Obese children have an 80-percent chance of staying obese their entire lives. The average lifetime cost of obesity is more than half a million dollars for an obese child who remains obese throughout adulthood. In Texas, the numbers are staggering. Forty percent of children are either overweight or obese.    

A survey conducted by the Cleveland Clinic revealed that most Americans believe their health is good. Thirty percent of those surveyed gave themselves an “A” on personal health while most of their doctors gave them a “C” or lower. Although a child might appear to be healthy, his or her condition can be determined only by measuring various aspects of the child’s physical condition.  

Fitnessgram, a physical education assessment and reporting program required under current law for children in grades 3 through 12, measures a child’s aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition.    

Senate Bill 226 seeks to enhance this data by requiring school districts to provide the results of individual student performance without identifiers such as a student’s name, social security number or date of birth.  The data is currently reported in aggregate form.

Research undeniably reveals a direct correlation between physical fitness and academic achievement. In Texas we’ve largely had to rely on national data to make that case.  In fact, in July of 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Centers for Disease Control released “The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance” which confirms what our mothers and teachers always knew: improving the quantity and quality of PE will improve the education and health status of students.   Allowing Fitnessgram data to be reported in a non-identifiable, individual format would allow Texas to begin examining our own data.   

For example, administrators and teachers from a low-academically performing school could compare/contrast their physical activity programs with programs from higher-performing schools. Just as school administrators can look at TAKS results, pinpoint low scores and identify where additional resources should be allocated, Fitnessgram scores can provide similar guidance. Allowing the Fitnessgram data to be reported as outlined in SB 226 will only enhance the ability of parents and communities across the state to begin combatting the current crisis which is sure to grow as state funding resources for obesity prevention programs wane.

In 2007, AISD and Children’s/AISD Student Health Services partnered with the Children’s Optimal Health (COH) collaborative to raise community awareness about the child obesity epidemic. You’ll note that I’ve distributed copies of a report, compiled by the COH that pinpoints AISD campuses, highlights the prevalence of obese children and then compares those maps with the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.  This data has been invaluable to both parents and the community beginning an important dialogue.  In fact, I spent Tuesday night at a community forum where parents, armed with similar information, are making informed decisions about community-level obesity interventions. 

Texas physicians see the health effects of childhood obesity every day, including 9 and 11 year olds with newly diagnosed type II diabetes and 8 year olds with high blood pressure — all a result of their obesity. Ultimately, it is more expensive to treat an obese adult than provide primary prevention for children. A 2003 study in the Obesity research journal concluded that $14 a year invested in student nutrition and physical activity programs can save more than $15,000 in medical costs and over $25,000 in loss-of-productivity costs associated with adult obesity. There is no better time than now to make decisions that will improve both the academic future of our students as well as the physical and fiscal health of our state.  

The budget picture of late has been abundantly clear; Texas can no longer afford to ignore the ramifications of a growing, obese childhood population.  We respectfully urge you to support the enhancement of Fitnessgram data outlined in SB 226. 

82nd Texas Legislature Testimonies 


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