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Details: New Presidential Youth Fitness Program

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WebMD Health News

children running together

Sept. 13, 2012 -- Goodbye percentile scores, hello “healthy fitness zone.”

A new presidential youth fitness program is replacing the old presidential fitness test that most adults grew up with in physical education (PE) classes in school.

The updated program does away with comparing students’ performances on athletic tasks like sit-ups and push-ups and then rating them on a percentile scale vs. their peers.

Instead, the new program measures students’ health-related fitness based on what current research shows promotes good health and lowers the risk of disease.

“What is really apparent is that we have an obesity epidemic in our country, so we feel like we now need to focus on health versus athletic performance,” says Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. She announced the new program this week.

Pfohl says that when the original presidential fitness test was developed almost 50 years ago, it was designed to measure children’s athletic performance and abilities -- particularly in case they were called into military service.

“By design, the old test compared kids against each other, so by design 50% failed,” Pfohl tells WebMD.

Rather than comparing children against each other, Pfohl says the most important difference about the new program is “helping kids reach a healthy fitness zone.”

Updating the Fitness Test

Modernizing the presidential fitness test was a recommendation of the president’s council’s science board and the White House’s 2010 task force on childhood obesity, which inspired first lady Michelle Obama’s "Let’s Move!" initiative.

"We have a better understanding of what it means to be a healthy kid," Mrs. Obama says. "One of the reasons I'm excited about the new program is because kids won't be measured on how fast they can run compared to their classmates, it'll be based on what they can do and what their own goal is. This is important because we want physical activity to be a lifelong habit."

The new “Fitnessgram” fitness assessment analyzes the students’ performance on evidence-based criteria in five different areas:

  • Cardiovascular fitness or aerobic capacity
  • Body composition
  • Muscle strength
  • Muscular endurance
  • Flexibility

Fitnessgram is a fitness assessment and reporting program developed by the non-profit Cooper Institute. The software and support materials for the program are available to schools online

The assessment uses a variety of tests, such as a skin-fold test to measure body composition, and exercises like curl-ups to gauge muscle strength and endurance.

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