Fit and active kids stay in school: Attendance is higher among teens who get fitter each year

Middle schoolers who exercise are less likely to skip classes, a new report suggests.

Researchers found that tweens had better school attendance if they improved their scores on the NYC Fitnessgram test year-on-year. 

The effect was most noticeable in girls attending schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, with more than 10 percent better attendance than the year before.

The team, led by the Miami-Dade County Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces, says promoting physical activity isn’t just important for overall health, but it also mitigates factors associated with being constantly absent, including substance abuse and teen pregnancy. 

A new report suggests that middle schoolers who exercise are less likely to be absent, especially if they’re from low-income households (file image)

A 2017 report found that seven million US students miss at least a month of school every year.

Previous studies have shown that children and teenagers are more likely to miss school due to physical and mental health issues.

These issues includes asthma, obesity, diabetes, depression and separation anxiety.

Chronic absenteeism can put children at risk of failing classes, late graduation, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and even future jail time.

‘In this study, we looked specifically at whether the fitness-absenteeism relationship changed in middle schoolers exposed to different types of poverty,’ said study co-author Dr Emily D’Agostino a senior researcher and epidemiologist for the Miami-Dade County Department.

For the new study, the team looked at more than 30,000 students in grades six through eight throughout New York City over a seven-year period.

Researchers looked at the students’ attendance records and annual physical fitness assessments and demographic factors such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

The NYC Fitnessgram assesses the physical activity of students in kindergarten through twelfth grade in NYC public schools.

Students are measured for height and weight, and complete five fitness activities evaluating strength, endurance, flexibility and aerobic capacity.  

Activities includes running laps, curl-ups, trunk lifts, push-ups and sit-and-reaches.

The report shows the child’s score, their score from the previous year and what percentile they fall nto.

They found that all students were less likely to be absent if they had improvements in their fitness score, but, in some groups, the benefits were even more noticeable.

Both boys and girls experiencing high poverty – such as coming from low-income households and qualifying for free/reduced-price school meals – were less likely to be absent than kids from middle-income households.

Girls in high-poverty neighborhoods had the greatest improvement in attendance at 11 percent one year after improving their scores.

The authors say the findings show that promoting physical activity is a low-cost way to help children and teenagers, especially those in poverty, miss less school.  

‘We found that children who started the study as chronically absent were no longer missing enough school to be at high risk for the negative factors associated with chronic absenteeism, such as substance abuse, increased rates of teen pregnancy or juvenile delinquency,’ said lead author Dr D’Agostino. 

Previous research has shown that being physically active doesn’t just benefit children, but adults as well.  

A 2005 Dutch study found that employees who played sports took less sick leave and, when they did take it, the time off was much less than their colleagues who don’t play sports.  

And a 2017 study found from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that less physical activity was associated with illness-related absenteeism.