A report issued by the Institute of Medicine is urging schools to resume fitness tests for all kids in the U.S. Though everyone pretty much knows that, in general, kids are heavier and more out of shape than they’ve ever been in history, it’s surprisingly hard to verify.
First of all, the best way to demonstrate fitness, according to Today Health, has evolved (turns out, sit-ups and throwing a baseball aren’t terribly informative about health). Second, fitness tests haven’t been done on an annual and wide-scale since sometime in the ’80s (you know, about the time the country’s obesity rate started to ratchet up.)
The Institute recommends three easy (sure, you try to do it!) tests, which make for easy data collection, comparison and trend spotting. Those are body mass index, running without getting out of breath and grip test.
Experts on the recommendation panel agree that waist circumference, along with the height-to-weight ratio calculation is the more accurate than just the BMI number alone. However, to keep things simple, they’re recommending schools collect BMI information for each child only. (Read here about a new way to calculate BMI and why it’s better. And really, schools should be able to handle the math.)
The running test can either take place on a treadmill, but so that the test would be accessible to all, they also recommend “shuttle runs.” In shuttle runs, kids dash back and forth from one line to another that is 20 meters away. A beeper also sounds periodically, and kids must run fast enough to make it to the line before the beep sounds. This continues until the child can no longer keep up. The number of “laps” is recorded.
The final test is for strength, endurance and power. This one is more difficult to measure and the group concluded a few tests would work as a measure. The recommend hand-grip strength test (hanging from a pull-up bar) and the standing long jump. Or modified pull-ups and sit-ups. The report notes that a problem with pull-ups as a test is that too many kids get only zeros — they can’t do a single pull-up.
While the Youth Fitness Test is being phased out (that’s the one developed in 1966 and that you might have done as a kid) and being replaced with the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, which, according to MSNBC, is a set of standards which don’t necessarily correlate to these new, research-based recommendations.
Inactivity in today’s youth is a huge health problem around the country and probably the most unfit kids are easy to identify. I hope these tests are used not to pick out individual kids to focus on — rather, as ways to identify populations that are particularly inactive. And then follow those up with funding, staff, time and ideas for how to motivate active play on a daily basis, yes, at school and also at home.