Included in Governor Newsom’s budget for next year is a 3-year suspension of physical fitness testing in schools. The only bad news here, is that it’s only a 3 year suspension. I first heard about this from Jenna T – a reader (and unofficial copy editor!) of my danceswithfat blog. and I am excited!
California’s current requirements require students in fifth, seventh, and ninth grade to take a physical fitness test that includes a one-mile run, push-ups, curl-ups, and a “body mass index” calculation.
Let’s talk about why ending this is such a wonderful idea:
Per Deb Burgard, PhD, FAED:
The BMI algorithm for kids and youth is not just height and weight. It is also speed of growth. So two kids with the exact same height and weight numbers who are growing at different rates can have very different BMIs. If you are a fast grower compared to the reference population, which is mostly white kids growing up in the 1970s, you will have a higher BMI. In 2007, the range of BMIs considered “overweight” was TRIPLED from the top 5% to the top 15%. The more different your body grows from white kids in the 70s, the more you will be exposed to the idea that your body is therefore wrong. This is racist, arbitrary, and not scientific.
BMI also requires that students identify as male or female, making things fraught for some trans kids and completely excluding non-binary kids. Not to mention that appearance-based bullying is rampant and this provides bullies with a justification, and the methods used to attempt to manipulate the BMI of these kids have been roundly criticized as dangerous in a number of ways. Research from the University of Minnesota found that: “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors.”
I work with so many people whose relationships with movement and their bodies have been harmed for their entire lives by these tests. Tests whose standards are arbitrary at best and don’t take into account children of different levels of ability and development (among other things.)
In many, if not most cases, physical education classes do NOTHING to prepare students for these tests. Kids spend their time during gym class playing different games, then once a year it’s time to do sit-ups, push-ups, and a one-mile run for time in front of other students? That’s like spending every math class playing Sudoku, then you show up one day and you are tested on your ability to factor a quadratic equation on the board in front of everyone.
I looked but couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that humiliating children in a physical education class increases their health in any way. Physical Education should be about inviting kids to develop a lifelong healthy relationship with movement, and movement should be introduced as an incredibly diverse world of options to explore, not something that they can fail at.
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