California Schools show slight gains in Physical Fitness

FRESNO, Calif.

The report released this week by the California Department of Education, shows Valley schools are consistent with the rest of the state, but there's one grade level that's outperforming the others at Fresno Unified: seventh graders. And that's because school officials said, a number of middle schools have added innovative programs and after-school clubs to keep kids fit.

Health experts, however, are growing increasingly concerned about K-5 students.

"As leaders and parents and adults we definitely need to emphasize it's important to work out," said former NFL football player Lorenzo Neal.

The former NFL fullback and running back from Lemoore is concerned about children's health and physical fitness after the state released the new numbers showing students made slight gains in two of the most important indicators of health and physical fitness, but held relatively steady overall.

"When you look at physical fitness and childhood obesity, it's a growing concern. Even for our military in the year 2020, the number one concern for them is obesity. Even the military, that's the number one threat for our country," said Neal.

Which is why he's behind "Operation Fresno Shape Up" happening this weekend at Fresno State to teach kids how to develop healthy habits.

'We're going to go out and show young kids, hey this is what you need to do, how to work out, how to stay active, how to move," said Neal.

According to the report, students in grades five and seven improved in aerobic capacity and body composition, two of the six areas that are assessed annually. Students in grade nine showed improvement in aerobic capacity, but dipped in body composition and only about a third of students in all grades scored in the "Healthy Fitness Zone" in all categories.

"Flexibility was an area that was down across the board and we need to put some focus on that area and see if we can make some improvements," said Fresno Unified Physical Education Manager Alan Kristensen.

Fresno Unified is one of many districts currently taking steps to address the problem. Last year, eight middle schools used a million dollar grant from the California Endowment to launch "Dance Dance Revolution" in its P.E. and after-school programs.

So far students at campuses like Tehipite Middle School are seeing significant improvement in aerobic capacity, body composition and abdominal and trunk strength.

"They don't feel like they're working out, it feels fun for them," said Tehipite Middle School Campus Culture Director Erin Dunbar.

Neal and other former professional athletes, Fresno State athletics and personal trainers are hoping to build on that momentum and keep kids moving in the right direction.

"We don't want people thinking I have to go on a diet for life, no it's just making healthy choices. Instead of eating that ice cream sandwich, go get that apple and put a little peanut butter on it," said Neal.

This weekend, they'll work with kids to show them how to exercise and have fun while dieticians will demonstrate how to eat right.

Last year, about a hundred kids took part and they're hoping to make it even bigger this year.

"Operation: Fresno Shape Up" will be held on Saturday from 8am to 1 pm at Fresno State's Warmerdam Field. Children ages 6-to-14 are invited to participate in this free event, but a parent must register them in advance.

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