With the increase in overweight and obesity among children and adolescents in the US, less data is available about their actual fitness levels. For this purpose a new study using FITNESSGRAM was initiated to study the fitness levels of a nationwide sample of 1st through 12th graders. This study is scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics.
FITNESSGRAM is a comprehensive youth fitness educational, reporting and promotional tool developed for use in schools.
The NFL PLAY 60 FITNESSGRAM Partnership Project, which is funded by the National Football League (NFL) Foundation and managed by The Cooper Institute, tracks health-related fitness data and provides training and support to over 1,000 schools in the US. According to Yang Bai, researchers from Iowa State University and The Cooper Institute, "It is designed to train schools from each NFL franchise region on the use of FITNESSGRAM to assess and promote physical activity and physical fitness in youth."
Baseline levels of health-related fitness of more than 200,000 youth from 725 schools were included in the final sample. The percentage of children who could achieve health-related fitness standards was measured for the following fitness components: aerobic capacity, body mass index, upper body strength and endurance, trunk strength and flexibility, abdominal strength and endurance, and flexibility.
Researchers found that less than 60% of youth met the healthy fitness zone for aerobic capacity and body mass index, although fitness levels varied considerably across schools. Middle school years, from 5th to 8th grade, were identified as the critical period when aerobic capacity declines and body mass index increases.
Consistent with past research, age-related lower levels of fitness correspond with declining patterns of physical activity for children and adolescents. These trends are especially evident in children in middle school. Notes Ms. Bai, "These results reinforce the need for early intervention to prevent or delay the decline in physical activity during the early adolescent years." Because these are the years during which lifelong habits begin, special attention should be given to ensure that youth have sufficient opportunities for physical activity, including physical education programming in schools.