Pediatric Fitness

Secular Trends and Geographic Variability

Editor(s): Tomkinson G.R. (Adelaide, S.A.) 
Olds T.S. (Adelaide, S.A.) 
Table of Contents
Vol. 50, No. , 2007
Section title: Paper
Tomkinson GR, Olds TS (eds): Pediatric Fitness. Secular Trends and Geographic Variability. Med Sport Sci. Basel, Karger, 2007, vol 50, pp 67-90

Physical Fitness of Children and Adolescents in the United States: Status and Secular Change

Malina R.
Tarleton State University, Stephenville, Tex., USA


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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