Development of a Fitness Surveillance System to Track and Evaluate Obesity in North Idaho

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Background: Internationally 18% of youth are obese. Fitness testing can be used to establish fitness surveillance, which can inform policy and targeted interventions aimed at addressing obesity. The purpose of this study was to estimate the prevalence of overweight, obesity, and low fitness in Idaho school-aged youth through a pilot study.

Methods: A convenience sample of 13 teachers from 11 north Idaho rural schools collected FitnessGram fitness data: body composition (body mass index [BMI]), aerobic capacity (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run [PACER] test), muscular endurance (curl up), strength (pushup), and flexibility (sit and reach).

Results: A total of 761 students (aged 9-18 years) from grades 3&5, 7, and 9 to 12 participated in the study. Approximately 24% of 3&5 and 22% of 7th, and 12% of 9 to 12th-grade students were categorized as Needs Improvement/Health Risk by FitnessGram standards for BMI. Similarly, approximately 25% of 3&5, and 22% of 7 and 9 to 12th-grade students were considered Needs Improvement/Health Risk for PACER.

Implications for School Health Policy, Practice, and Equity: Results from fitness testing can provide school and public health representatives with a ‘‘needs assessment’’ of student health that can be used to help develop policies and practices to improve student health and wellbeing.

Conclusions: This study provides a model for statewide annual fitness testing surveillance and reporting within K-12 public school physical education classrooms.