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Meeting Physical Activity Guidelines and Health-Related Fitness in Youth

April 19, 2013

Issues surrounding physical fitness testing have been around for more than 50 years in the U.S. Members of our group have conducted research in schools related to childhood and youth physical fitness for more than 30 years. Key issues that we have investigated include the reliability and validity of health-related physical fitness measures. Since the development of childhood and adolescent physical activity guidelines in1994 (Sallis et al.) and then the 2008 USDHHS Physical Activity Guidelines for all Americans, interest has been refocused toward assessing physical activity behaviors in schools, communities, and home environments. Measuring physical fitness (the outcome) is often easier than measuring physical activity behaviors. Significantly, we report that children who meet national physical activity guidelines have increased odds of achieving healthy physical fitness results on a nationally recognized health-related, criterion-referenced fitness assessment, the Fitnessgram®, a component of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program (PYFP) conducted by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and NutritionPresidential Youth Fitness Program. The PYFP is a “comprehensive school-based program that promotes health and regular physical activity for America’s youth.” Conducting research in schools can be described as “messy business” when having to work with and around teachers, students, parents, and administrators. Some specific challenges we faced included: test administrators who are not trained to administer tests, trying to help the educators with retesting because of incorrect protocol, and teachers/coaches making comments about students during the measurement process. We implemented more specific procedures after witnessing questionable testing procedures. While these challenges and additional ones related to scheduling, classes, weather, teachers, administrators, and parents, can sometimes be obstacles to school-based research, the development of good relations between researchers and school-based personnel helped move the science of physical education forward as we attempted to measure behaviors and objectively measured physical fitness outcomes.

— James R. Morrow, Jr., PhD
University of North Texas

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