Youth Data Archive Snapshot
Exploring the Link between Physical Fitness and
The issue of childhood obesity has received tremendous attention nationally
and locally. There is ample research showing that obese children are more
likely to experience physical and mental health problems and other negative
outcomes, including lower academic achievement. This evidence has led
practitioners and policy makers to focus considerable attention on improving
overall health and physical fitness among today’s youth.
To examine this complex relationship between physical fitness and academic
achievement, researchers from the John W. Gardner Center at Stanford
University use the Youth Data Archive (YDA) to follow students over four
academic years. The study links students’ California Standardized Test (CST)
scores in math and English Language Arts (ELA), administered every year, to
their performance on the California Physical Fitness Test (PFT), which tests
students in grades 5, 7, and 9.1
Findings and Interpretation
Although there are differences in demographic characteristics based on PFT
performance, the results of this analysis show a consistent link between
physical fitness and academic achievement beyond the effects of those
demographic differences. The main findings are:
Students who passed the PFT in both years had higher CST scores than
those who failed in both years.2 The difference started as early as 4th
grade—one year before students first took the PFT—and continued
throughout students’ academic careers (Exhibit 1).
Students whose fitness improved between 5th and 7th grade had higher
CST scores than students whose fitness declined (Exhibit 2).
Only improvements in overall fitness, not any single fitness measure, are
linked to achievement gains.
1 The PFT tests students on six different measures of fitness, called Healthy Fitness Z