The physical fitness of school-age children in the United States is considered from two
perspectives - status and secular change. This chapter principally examines health-related
fitness, including the BMI, though performance-related fitness is briefly considered.
Concepts of reference data and standards and factors that may influence secular change are
initially discussed. National data on the physical fitness status of school children in the continental
United States are limited to the 1980s. Ethnic variation in physical fitness is not considered
except for the prevalence of overweight and obesity. More recent physical fitness
data, including examination of ethnic variation, are based on several statewide and more
local surveys. Although results vary by test, the majority of American school children meet
or exceed criterion-referenced standards, although sex differences are not consistent. Poor
morphological fitness manifest in obesity is an exception. The prevalence of overweight and
obesity has increased since the early 1980s. Secular data for specific fitness items are less
extensive. Regression analyses suggest a recent decline in maximal aerobic power in girls,
but fairly stable levels between the 1930s and today in boys. However, the highest values for
boys occur in the 1960s and 1970s and more recent values are somewhat lower. The general
trend may be consistent with the decline since the 1980s in aerobic performance assessed
with the 20 m shuttle run. These trends highlight the need for updated national physical fitness
data for American youth.
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