Aerobic Fitness, School Academic Rating, and Parental Income in a Canadian Cohort of Children and Adolescents*

Study by Kimberly A. Volterman, Joyce Obeid, Silvia Ruegger, Brian Warren and Brian W. Timmons, Child Health & Exercise Medicine Program, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada


To assess the relationship between children’s aerobic fitness levels, average parental income, and school academic rating (based on reading, writing, and math scores).


  • In Canada, almost 1 million children (14.3% of youth under the age of 18) are living in poverty.
  • Child poverty can deeply affect children within their home, school and community environments, while having a wide range of negative impacts on their health habits, lifestyle, and academic achievement. 
  • Children from low-income backgrounds have been shown to be 3.9x less likely to participate in organized sport than children from high socio- economic families.
  • Significant academic achievement gaps exist, particularly in areas of reading and mathematics, between children of varying socioeconomic status, showing a positive relationship between parental income and a child’s academic achievement.
  • There is increasing evidence in children to support a link between physical health (e.g. BMI and physical fitness) and both academic performance and cognitive function, with a positive relationship between a child’s fitness level and academic achievement.
  • Less is known, however, about the interaction between physical fitness and poverty on school academic achievement.


698 children (ages 7.3 – 17.1 yrs; 51% males) from 17 different schools in the Hamilton area participated in the study.


  • Each child’s aerobic fitness level was assessed using the 20-m PACER test.
  • Children were then categorized into either Healthy Fitness Zones (HFZ) or Needs Improvement (NI) according to the Cooper Institute criteria.
  • School academic rating (out of 10) and average parental income were obtained from the publically-available Fraser Institute Report cards.
  • Overall school academic ratings were grouped from lowest to highest ratings as follows: 2-4; 4- 6; 6-8; 8-10.
  • Average parental income was grouped according to: <$35,000 (the poverty line for a Canadian family of 4); $35-50,000; $50- 65,000; $65-80,000; and >$80,000. 


  • A chi-square test (separated by sex) found a significant association between school academic rating and fitness classification, in females especially
  • Average parental income demonstrated a positive association with fitness classification in both females and males 


  • Children’s fitness levels may be associated with average parental income more-so than overall school rating (academic performance).
  • Our findings also suggest a sex-based influence on the relationship between children’s aerobic fitness levels, school academic rating, and average parental income.
  • The disparity between fitness levels among children from low income families and those from higher income backgrounds may have subsequent effects on their physical health.
  • Intervention programs targeted towards disadvantaged children and designed to address physical activity and fitness at the classroom level are warranted. In turn, this may positively impact student’s achievement in schools.  


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