Physical Fitness and Academic Performance in Normal Weight, Overweight, and Obese Schoolchildren in Qatar: A Pilot Study for Physical Education Perspective
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Childhood obesity and loss of physical fitness are rising problems internationally. Although research concerning mitigation strategies has been enforced, empirical results until now fail to address problems and needs of the Gulf region, which has unique geographical and cultural features. Therefore, this study investigated academic performance and physical fitness in normal, overweight, and obese child handball athletes in Qatar. Measurements included anthropometric data (BMI and body fat percentage (%BF)), and physical performance tests: agility T-half test; squat jump (SJ), and countermovement jump (CMJ), 10 and 15 m sprint; medicine ball throw. Aerobic capacity was evaluated using the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test level 1. Academic achievement was assessed through school records of grades point average (GPA) of Mathematics, Science and Arabic. With the exception of medicine ball throw (obese: 4.08 ± 1.05 m) and sprinting parameters (overweight: 10 m: 2.43 ± 0.35 s, 15 m: 3.60 ± 0.46 s), athletes from the normal weight group showed the highest performance level in all parameters. Between group differences existed for the T-Half Test (p = 0.035, ηp2 = 0.190), CMJ (p = 0.001, ηp2 = 0.363) and SJ (p = 0.007, ηp2 = 0.269). For CMJ and SJ, the comparison between overweight and normal weight also yielded a difference (CMJ: p = 0.005; SJ: p = 0.009). The academic parameters generated the largest difference between groups for science (p = 0.057; ηp2 = 0.164). For all parameters studied, the normal weight group had the highest performance level. In contrast, the overweight group showed the lowest level of academic performance. These findings suggest being overweight or obese are related to science academic performance among schoolchildren in Qatar. Physical education teachers should be cognizant that health promotion interventions improving composition may have the additional potential to improve dimensions of academic performance.