School Gym

Phys Ed Falls Short of Curing Obesity in Texas

Ask anybody who’s been around the block in marketing or politics. Managing expectations is the key to success. And so we come to the case of policymakers in Texas who promised that investing in phys ed would cut obesity rates, raise test scores, and improve fitness. By itself in just four years, PE was never going to make all that happen. And now policymakers must contend with data that says two-thirds of the promises for the program went unfulfilled.

Paul von Hippel and Kyle Bradbury published a rather thorough analysis of Texas Fitness Now in the September issue of the journal Preventive Medicine. They analyzed how 37 million dollars for the program were spent and used a fixed-effects longitudinal model to assess the effect on test scores, fitness, and BMI. They found that:

Texas Fitness Now improved strength and flexibility, especially among girls, but it did not improve BMI or academic achievement, and it had mixed effects on aerobic capacity.

The results of Texas Fitness Now were typical for an intervention that relied almost exclusively on physical activity. Programs that improve BMI as well as fitness tend to have a more fully developed nutrition component.


AHA: You Can't Outrun a Bad DietIt’s become a cliché that “you can’t outrun a bad diet.” David Allison and colleagues called out the myth of phys ed for reducing childhood obesity nearly three years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Cochrane Collaboration found an effect size of 0.00 in the most robust studies they could find of physical activity for reducing BMI.

The danger of such puffery about physical activity is that it will undermine its considerable health benefits — both by itself and in a synergistic combination with good nutrition. Despite this risk, people who should know better insist on getting caught up in a false dichotomy of diet versus physical activity and in over-promising the benefits of physical activity.

Even little lies have a way of catching up with you.

“A harmful truth is better than a useful lie.” — Thomas Mann

Click here to read the study, here to read more from the Houston Chronicle, and here to read more from UT News.

School Gym, photograph © pfüll / flickr

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August 28, 2015