BEIJING - When Song Jingxia, an English teacher at Beijing Guangqumen Middle School, learned during the National People's Congress that an average Japanese teenager is more physically fit than a Chinese teen, she wasn't surprised.
"Emotionally, it's hard to accept, but I believe it is the reality. Chinese students are getting much less physical activity than children in Japan," Song said on Tuesday after a news conference announcing the results of the 2013 Beijing students physical fitness survey.
The survey shows a decline in the overall health and fitness of Chinese teenagers and demonstrates the need for more effective measures to help students develop healthy lifestyles, educators and legislators said.
Song's concerns were reflected in the survey, which was undertaken last year by the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Its conclusions are worrying: Among 1.3 million Beijing primary and secondary school students polled, 21.46 per cent of them were obese, while 62.96 per cent suffered from poor eyesight.
The blood volume of 17-year-olds - an overall measure of vitality - dropped by 150 ml for males and 48 ml for females, compared with results in 2012.
Meanwhile, some chronic diseases have started to hamper the health of teenagers. Among 401 junior and senior high school students, 45.1 per cent of respondents were diagnosed with fatty livers and 30.7 per cent were found with hypertension.
The results mirrored public concern that the emphasis on academic excellence in China's basic education, which is heavily oriented to the all-important gaokao - the national college entrance exam - has forced many schools to replace physical education with extra tutoring and exams and cancel extracurricular sports activities around major tests.
Including a physical education test as part of the gaokao might encourage more schools to boost the time and quality of sports participation on campus while encouraging parents to replace various tutoring programs with physical exercises, a member of the Beijing CPPCC committee suggested.
"As the baton of our entire education system, gaokao plays a pivotal role. It has a huge impact on curriculum and education planning, so we should really think about the possibility of adding sports testing to it," said Li Ran, vice-president of the committee's education, culture, health and sports commission.
Song supported Li on the positive influence that including fitness in the gaokao might have but predicted that the reform won't happen quickly.