The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Charles L. Sterling: An epidemic of fitness malpractice

06:42 PM CDT on Thursday, July 8, 2010

Despite all the attention in the media, there has not been a "renewed interest" in fitness in Texas schools.

Yes, the Legislature passed SB 530 in 2007, requiring fitness testing for many students. But that came only after Dr. Kenneth Cooper was relentless in calling attention to the "tsunami" of health problems to be expected as a result the inactivity and obesity levels of our students. Despite his evidence-based pleas, the bill narrowly passed, only to be classified as an unfunded appropriation. In others words, the testing of children's health wasn't a high enough priority to warrant funding.

Why was there even opposition? Simply, school administrators are often evaluated and promoted on how well their school does on the TAKS test. Anything that takes time away from teaching the TAKS is a threat.

Only a few enlightened educators now view the education of the whole child as a priority. So SB 530 was forced on the school administrators, who have shown apathy at the high school level. The elementary schools are doing a good job, and progress among younger grades is good news – but too many students are failing the state's fitness test, which really reflects a failure of schools and lawmakers.

After Cooper raised funds to help pay for the state's required testing, SB 530 was amended to allow for only aggregate data (summaries) to be on file at the Texas Education Agency. Aggregate data greatly limits research possibilities and prevents the public from knowing fitness scores for individual districts. The watered-down bill also states that schools do not have to give parents their children's results unless parents request it. How many parents even know about the testing?

When the 2007 results were released, Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Jane Nelson showed up for the press conference. Since then, both have retreated. When there was a national cry to increase P.E. requirements, such requirements in Texas were dropped in high schools – along with those for health education.

As a result of the inaction, what do we get? Ask any pediatrician. They are seeing obesity like never before and very young diabetics and pre-diabetics in significant numbers. And the gate is open. Without any exaggeration, the U.S. will be unable to write the health care checks for the number of diabetics on the way. And the African-American and Hispanic communities are hit the hardest.

It's not just about health care costs. Comprehensive studies in Texas, California and New York City all show that students who score higher on fitness tests have high academic scores, less absenteeism and less truancy.

Ask the parent of a diabetic what it is like. The child loses his or her independence and a higher quality of life. He or she faces other morbidities (such as blindness and amputations) and a shortened life span. Allowing this to happen is malpractice – but not on the medical side; it is vested with the school administrators and legislators who have the data in front of them but refuse to act.

Parents, speak up. It's your children and grandchildren – and our nation – at stake. Stop the malpractice.

Charles L. Sterling of Dallas developed the Fitnessgram program mandated in Texas and used in 85,000 schools, 50 states and 12 countries. He is the chairman of Youth Initiatives at The Cooper Institute. His e-mail address is