Parents of school-aged kids may remember taking a physical fitness test that involved running the 50-yard dash and performing a zig-zag run (shuttle run) along with other tests such as the pull-up. Grandparents may remember throwing a softball, running or walking 600 yards, or doing the flexed arm hang. Over time youth physical fitness tests have changed. Now the national test, called FITNESSGRAM, produced by the Cooper Institute in Dallas and co-sponsored by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition and the American Alliance for Health Physical Education and Recreation, includes test items that relate to health rather than sports-related test items included in earlier tests.
FITNESSGRAM, the national test your children are likely to take in school, includes tests for five components of health-related physical fitness: body composition (body mass index), cardiovascular fitness (PACER), flexibility (sit and reach), strength, and muscular endurance (curl-up, push-up, trunk lift). Each of the test items was selected because of its relationship to health. Ratings on each test item are called “health standards” because youth who fail to meet the standards are at risk of current and future health problems (www.fitnessgram.net).
The current health-based fitness tests differ from tests given from the 1950s through the 1980s. The earlier tests focused on skill-related fitness or fitness associated with good performance in sports or skills used in sports. Items such as the softball throw or 50-yard dash are examples. The tests also differed in that students in previous generations received ratings based on percentile standards rather than health standards. Comparisons were made to other people (percentile scores) rather than determining if a child had adequate fitness to prevent future health problems — health-based scores).
A committee of the Institute of Medicine recently completed a report designed to determine the best youth fitness tests for inclusion in a national youth fitness survey. The study is entitled Fitness Measures and Health Outcomes in Youth (available at: www.iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/FitnessMeasuresYouth.aspx). In addition to identifying fitness tests for use in a national survey, the report clearly established the link between health and youth fitness. It also makes a strong case for regularly monitoring the fitness of youth as a health prevention measure. This report makes it clear that using health criteria for rating youth fitness is superior to using normative standards (percentiles). To put this in perspective, an adult in the U. S. could be “average” (at the 50th percentile) using normative standards. But a health standard would show him or her to be overweight. Since two-thirds of the adult population is either overweight or obese it is not good to be average in this area — meeting the health standard for body composition is a more appropriate goal.
The research is clear. Low fitness in youth is associated with various health risk factors and risk of chronic disease among adults. Appropriate assessment of youth can track youth fitness over time and make youth, their parents, and health professionals aware of student fitness and associated health status. Future articles in this column will describe some of the most common tests in youth fitness batteries and their link to health.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles “Chuck” Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He is the author of more than 90 books on fitness and exercise, was the first chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board, and served on the Institute of Medicine Committee on Fitness Measures and Health Outcomes in Youth. He was a charter member of the advisory board for FITNESSGRAM.