COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — A new report sheds some light on what effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on student health in South Carolina.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), along with partners like the University of South Carolina and the BlueCross BlueShield South Carolina Foundation, there has been a decline in student health according to the latest FitnessGram report.

The statewide comprehensive physical fitness test is conducted by PE teachers in South Carolina schools for students in 2nd, 5th, 8th grade and high school.

The latest data reveals the percentage of children in the “Healthy Weight Category” decreased from 65% before the pandemic to 59% after it. There was also a decline in the number of students in “Healthy Fitness Zone” for cardiorespiratory fitness dropped from 60% to 51% before and after the pandemic.

Dr. Russell Pate with the USC Arnold School of Public Health said, “The bottom line is kids need physical activity to be healthy. They need physical activity to develop normally. They need physical activity to reduce the risk of negative health outcomes, and they need physical activity to learn.”

Officials said the data also revealed disparities, with Black and Hispanic children scoring lower on fitness tests compared to their White peers. The data also showed students living in poverty were less likely to achieve a healthy fitness level.

In a press release, Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC public health director, emphasized the crucial role of in-person schooling in keeping students physically active.

The report also highlighted the long-term impact of children’s health on their academic capabilities and future careers. Officials say healthy children are less likely to develop chronic health conditions and tend to perform better academically. Dr. Pate said, “If kids become more physically active at this point, they can recover fully.”

The report calls on schools, community organizations, parents, community members, and students themselves to promote daily physical activity.

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