San Diego Unified school board member Katherine Nakamura is positively giddy about this chart about physical fitness scores in high schools, which could help her campaign to keep giving students physical education credit for marching band. A new state law intended to combat obesity has threatened to strip that credit and opponents fear it could prevent students with packed schedules from taking the class. San Diego Unified has vowed to fight the rule.

So here is why Nakamura loves this data: The test scores show that in many San Diego high schools, students in marching band actually perform better on state fitness tests than their classmates in gym classes. The trend holds everywhere that data is available except for Scripps Ranch High, where the marching band kids are in worse shape than their peers. The average Fitnessgram score across the school district is higher among marching band students than those taking gym or those taking military science classes, better known as Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Does this mean that toting a tuba is better for your cardiac health? Maybe or maybe not. Maybe marching band just draws fitter kids. But it does seem to support the case Nakamura is making — that the marching band students are not in dire need of a gym class.

“I’ve been making a joke about it — but it makes you wonder, should we make marching band the required course and PE the elective?” Nakamura said. “You get more bang for your buck in marching band in leadership, parent and community involvement, and now we know — physical activity.”

A note on reading the chart: This can be a little confusing. For the easiest number, check out the average Fitnessgram score, which ranges from zero to six.


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