Low aerobic fitness and obesity are associated with lower standardized test scores in children

J Pediatr. 2010 May;156(5):711-8, 718.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2009.11.039. Epub 2010 Jan 25.


Objective: To investigate whether aerobic fitness and obesity in school children are associated with standardized test performance.

Study design: Ethnically diverse (n = 1989) 5th, 7th, and 9th graders attending California schools comprised the sample. Aerobic fitness was determined by a 1-mile run/walk test; body mass index (BMI) was obtained from state-mandated measurements. California standardized test scores were obtained from the school district.

Results: Students whose mile run/walk times exceeded California Fitnessgram standards or whose BMI exceeded Centers for Disease Control sex- and age-specific body weight standards scored lower on California standardized math, reading, and language tests than students with desirable BMI status or fitness level, even after controlling for parent education among other covariates. Ethnic differences in standardized test scores were consistent with ethnic differences in obesity status and aerobic fitness. BMI-for-age was no longer a significant multivariate predictor when covariates included fitness level.

Conclusions: Low aerobic fitness is common among youth and varies among ethnic groups, and aerobic fitness level predicts performance on standardized tests across ethnic groups. More research is needed to uncover the physiological mechanisms by which aerobic fitness may contribute to performance on standardized academic tests.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • California
  • Child
  • Educational Status*
  • Ethnicity
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / ethnology
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Socioeconomic Factors