Does Physical Fitness Serve As a Buffer Against Trauma, Illness, and Environmental Hazards in Disadvantaged Children?

Cotton, Ă„nna, and Kathleen Zimmerman-Oster

The aim of this study was to look at the relationship between physical fitness and emotional problems in children. The hypothesis was that high levels of physical fitness would be correlated with low levels of mental health problems. Variables were measured using parents' subjective self-report. The data gathered represents kindergarten through eighth grade students from lower socioeconomic status and racial minorities attending an urban school. Prior literature shows that these students are at higher risk of exposure to injury, illness, and environmental hazards; therefore, these factors were controlled for in the study. Logistic regression and chi square analysis were conducted to examine the role of each variable as a contributing or protective factor regarding emotional, physical or behavioral health issues. This study found that although fitness was a significant predictor of mental health problems in children, its influence was not strong enough to negate the effects of environmental hazards. Ultimately, environmental hazards, particularly exposure to cigarette smoking, were significant in predicting higher risk of mental health problems, even when controlling for other variables. This study showed that children who were exposed to cigarette smoking in the home had a 3.5 times higher risk of having mental health problems.