It has been previously established that girls have lower cardiorespiratory fitness compared to boys. However, it is less understood how a school’s socioeconomic status influences this relationship.
As such, the present study sought to examine the relationship between sex, school-level socioeconomic status (SES), and cardiorespiratory fitness.
To answer this question, physical fitness data, specifically cardiorespiratory fitness, were obtained from 67 schools (15,052 students) currently participating in the Healthy Zone School Program® (HZSP).
The analyses revealed:
- Girls had significantly lower odds (46% less likely) of being in the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) for cardiorespiratory fitness compared to boys.
- Having a greater percentage of economically disadvantaged students was also associated with lower odds of being in the HFZ for cardiorespiratory fitness.
- The odds of girls (compared to boys) being in the HFZ for cardiorespiratory fitness were decreased even further (56% less likely) in schools where ≥90% of students were economically disadvantaged (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Likelihood of girls being in the HFZ for cardiorespiratory fitness across categories of school-level socioeconomic status (expressed in percent of students that are economically disadvantaged). In general, as the percent of economically disadvantaged students increases, the odds of girls being in the HFZ decreases in a linear manner.
Improving the health and fitness of girls
Schools play an instrumental role in ensuring our youth have access to programming designed to promote a physically active lifestyle. Based on the information obtained from the above study, when considering school-based programs, leaders should ensure options that are geared towards improving the health and fitness of girls. Further, affordability in combination with sustainability should be the key focus of health and fitness programming, especially in low-SES schools. In addition to school-based programming, girls are encouraged to participate in regular physical activity especially in time of school closures and virtual learning. The FitnessGram Playground by The Cooper Institute is a great tool to help all youth obtain the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
Walker, T.J., Craig, D.W., Pavlovic, A., Thiele, S., and Kohl, H.W. (2020). Associations between gender, school socioeconomic status, and cardiorespiratory fitness among elementary and middle school students. BMC Public Health, 20, 1495 – 1503.
About the Healthy Zone School Program
In 2011, The Cooper Institute and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas joined forces to create the Healthy Zone School Program. The program provides North Texas schools with education and over $7,000 in resources for three-years to address health-related needs within their school community.
The program currently serves Dallas, Collin, Rockwall, and southern Denton counties. Schools may apply individually but the program is not open to districts. The Healthy Zone School Program expands to 199 schools this year, impacting over 159,000 local students. The use of evidence-based knowledge and best practices allows schools to create an environment optimal for promoting lifelong healthy behaviors and creating a culture of health.