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President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition

Our History

Learn about the Council - beginning in 1956, when President Eisenhower established the President's Council on Youth Fitness - to present day when President Obama announced the new mission and name, President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.

Administration: Dwight D. Eisenhower

Date: 1953 - 1961
Chair: Vice President Richard M. Nixon
Executive Director: Shane McCarthy, 1956 - 1961

In December 1953, the Journal of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation publishes an article, "Muscular Fitness and Health," coauthored by Dr. Hans Kraus and Bonnie Prudden that sounded an alarm about the poor state of youth fitness in America. Within two years, another article by Dr. Kraus and Bonnie Prudden (under the name Ruth P. Hirschland) in the New York State Journal of Medicine reports the results of a study that administered the Kraus-Weber Tests to approximately 4,400 students between ages 6 and 16 in public school systems across the United States and to approximately 3,000 European students in the same age range in Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. A report by Dr. Kraus and Dr. Sonja Weber created concern about the physical fitness of America's children relative to their European counterparts.

Following the President's Conference on Fitness of American Youth (held at U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD) in June 1956, President Eisenhower creates the President's Council on Youth Fitness with cabinet-level status, specifying "one" objective for the first Council to be a "catalytic agent" concentrating on creating public awareness. A President's Citizens - Advisory Committee on Fitness of American Youth, the equivalent to today's Council, is confirmed to give advice to Council.

On September 9 and 10, 1957 at the Conference on Physical Fitness of Youth (again held at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY), a plan of action is developed for the Council. The first nationwide pilot study of 8,500 boys and girls, ages 5-12 results in the start of a national testing program (known today as the Presidential Youth Fitness Program).

Administration: John F. Kennedy

Date: 1961 - 1963
Chair: Charles (Bud) Wilkinson, Consultant to the President on Physical Fitness, 1961 - 1963
Council Administrator: Richard Swider

President Kennedy changes the name to the President's Council on Physical Fitness to address all age groups and amended the Executive Order by one objective - enlisting the aid of citizens, civic groups, etc.

With the aid of the Advertising Council, a nationwide public service advertising campaign was launched with President Kennedy promoting taking the 50 mile hikes previously required of U.S. Marine officers. His brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, completed the challenge in the snow and slush wearing dress shoes.

State demonstration centers were designed in 1961 to showcase model elementary and secondary schools.

In that same year, President Kennedy speaks at the Conference on Physical Fitness of Youth. Regional clinics and educational films are initiated.

Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson

Date: 1963 - 1969
Chair: Stan Musial, Consultant to the President on Physical Fitness, 1964 – 1967
Chair: Hubert H. Humphrey, Consultant to the President, 1967
Chair: James A. Lovell, 1967 – 1969
Council Administrator: Robert Stewart, 1964 – 1967
Council Administrator: John P. Wilbern, 1967 – 1970

During his Presidency, President Johnson changes the name to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports to encourage lasting fitness gains through sports and games and added five objectives to the Executive Order. The Council was placed administratively under Department of Health, Education, & Welfare.

The second national fitness survey of 10- to 17- year-olds takes place in 1965. The following year, based on the survey results, the President establishes the Presidential Physical Fitness Award for exceptional achievement by 10- to 17-year-old boys and girls.

The Council supervised the National Youth Sports Program for disadvantaged youth.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

Date: 1969 - 1974
Executive Director: C. Carson Conrad, 1970 - 1974
Chairman: James A. Lovell, 1969 - 1974

Under the Nixon administration, the Council expanded the Presidential Physical Fitness Awards to include recreation departments and groups, such as boys and girls clubs. In 1970, Special Advisors were developed to stimulate the development of physical fitness programs for employees, enhanced public relation activities, and instigated the possibility of private support for Council projects.

Three conferences were held on fitness in business and industry in 1972, 1973, and 1974.

The Presidential Sports Award was established in 1972 to motivate Americans to participate regularly in fitness/sports activity.

Administration: Gerald R. Ford

Date: 1974 - 1977
Executive Director: C.Carson Conrad, 1974 - 1977
Chairman: James A. Lovell, 1974 - 1977

The Executive Order was amended with two additional objectives in 1976 to charge the Council with informing the general public of the importance of exercise, and assisting business and industry in establishing sound physical fitness programs.

In 1975, the third national youth fitness survey takes place and results did not show as much improvement as those of 1965.

A year later in 1976, the Presidential Sports Award was available in 43 categories.

Administration: James E. Carter

Date: 1977 - 1981
Executive Director: C. Carson Conrad, 1977 - 1981
Chairman: Governor Jerry Apodaca, 1978 - 1980
Chairman: Al McGuire, 1980 - 1981

During President Carter's tenure, Council membership expanded to 15 members. In 1979, physical fitness and exercise become one of 15 priority areas in a national health promotion/disease prevention initiative with the Council as the lead agency.

In addition to Congress passing Amateur Sports Act of 1978 reorganizing the United States Olympic Committee, President Carter speaks at 1st National Conference on Physical Fitness.

Administration: Ronald W. Reagan

Date: 1981 - 1989
Executive Director: C. Carson Conrad, 1981 - 1984
Executive Director: Ash E. Hayes, 1985 - 1989
Chairman: George Allen, 1981 - 1988
Chairman: Richard Kazmaier, 1988 - 1989

During Reagan's Administration, the Executive Order is amended to 10 objectives (See pages 37-41 of "President's Council on Physical Fitness & Sports, The First 50 Years: 1956-2006"). Some of Chairman George Allen's goals between 1981 and 1984 include: the National Fitness Foundation; U.S. Fitness Academy; National Fitness Classic; Adult Fitness Card; National Fitness Testing Week; and Youth Fitness Forums.

The 1985 National School Population Fitness Survey spurs the development of the National Physical Fitness Award.

The Council joins National Recreation and Parks Association in the National Fitness Coalition to stimulate recreation and parks officials to initiate fitness programs.

The Healthy American Fitness Leaders Award begins and a physical fitness postage stamp is issued.

In 1983, the White House Symposium on Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine and May is proclaimed National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. In 1984, National Conference on Youth Fitness and six regional public hearings on physical fitness and physical education take place. The first National Women's Leadership Conference on Fitness takes place with First Lady Nancy Reagan as Honorary Chair.

In 1987, the Amateur Athletic Union is awarded the contract to administer today's President's Challenge.

In the public health arena, the Council reports on the 1990 Objectives in the exercise and fitness priority area.

Administration: George H. Bush

Date: 1989 - 1993
Executive Director: Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, 1989 - 1991
Executive Director: John Butterfield, 1991 - 1993
Chairman: Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1990 - 1992

Between 1989 and 1993, the Council is expanded to 20 members. Chairman Arnold Schwarzenegger visits all 50 states to advocate for daily, quality physical education. This is a prolific era for public/private collaboration on physical fitness programs and initiatives, such as the Great American Workouts held on White House lawn.

In 1989, the Council is named lead agency on physical activity and fitness priority area of Healthy People 2000 with CDC as the science advisor.

In 1990, the National Conference on Military Fitness takes place to review important physical fitness issues facing the service members.

In 1991, the Participant Physical Fitness Award is added. The Presidential Sports Award recognizes the first family that earns the Family Fitness Award.

Administration: William J. Clinton

Date: 1993 - 2001
Executive Director: Sandra Perlmutter, 1993 - 2001
Co-Chair: Florence Griffith Joyner, 1993 - 1998
Co-Chair: Tom McMillen, 1993 - 1997
Chair: Lee Haney,1999 - 2002
Vice Chair: Don Casey, 2000 - 2002

In 1993, the Council conducted a Strategic Planning Forum to discuss the adult fitness survey, and develop recommendations on how to improve Americans' physical activity and fitness status. Plans are also put in place to develop and launch the Council website.

In 1994, the Council releases the Silver Eagle Award to promote fitness among seniors.

HHS Secretary Shalala releases Nolan Ryan Fitness Guide, which is made available free of charge to every American who asks for one – more than 850,000 guides are distributed. In 1996, The landmark Physical Activity and Health: A Report by the Surgeon General is released.

A year later, Fit Start is added to the Presidential Sports and Health Fitness Awards and materials made available in Spanish.

In cooperation with the National Archive and Records Administration, the Council sponsors Flexing the Nation's Muscle: President's, Physical Fitness and Sports in the American Century, a traveling exhibit featuring twentieth century presidents and their participation in activity and fitness. Sponsored by Sporting Good Manufacturers Association (SGMA) and International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), the Council partnered with the Advertising Council to develop a 3-year ad campaign focusing on youth fitness, "Get Off It!" and "Get Up, Get Out."

The Council and CDC are named co-leads for the physical activity and fitness goals of Healthy People 2010 and physical activity is named one of 10 Leading Health Indicators. President Clinton issues Executive Memorandum directing Secretaries of HHS and Education to identify strategies to improve our nation's youth fitness. In November 2000, a report is presented to the White House, Promoting Better Health for Young People through Physical Activity and Sports.

Administration: George W. Bush

Date: 2001 - 2009
Executive Director: Lisa E. Oliphant, 2001 - 2002
Executive Director (Acting): CDR Penny Royall, Dec 2002 - Oct 2003
Executive Director: Melissa Johnson, MS, Oct 2003 - Jan 2009
Chair: Lynn C. Swann, 2002 - 2005
Vice Chair: Dorothy G. Richardson, M.D., 2002 - 2009
Chair: John P. Burke, 2005 - 2009

The Council launches its gateway website at

For the 2001-02 school year, the President's Challenge expands to three areas and the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award is made available for children and youth.

On June 6, 2002, President Bush signs Executive Order 13265 that emphasizes the Council's role in advising and assisting the President and the HHS Secretary in expanding national interest in the health benefits of regular physical activity and sports.

On June 20, 2002, President Bush holds Fitness Expo on the South Lawn of the White House and introduces his new Council members, including (See "List of Council Leadership (including Council members) by Administration").

On January 15, 2003, Chairman Lynn Swann speaks at the National Press Club about the Council's programs to help Americans "Be Physically Active Every Day," introduces the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award to the media, and announces the future President's Challenge interactive website under development.

On July 18, 2003, President Bush and Chairman Lynn Swann launch a new website for the President's Challenge at the Lakewest Family YMCA in Dallas, Texas. Within the next year, 300,000 individuals register on the new website.

In October 2003, Melissa Johnson is appointed Executive Director, and just months later in December, the Council's Science Board formed and first meeting held.

On June 16, 2004, HealthierUS Fitness Festival is held on the National Mall with the Congressional Fitness Caucus. A year later, on May 2, 2005, the second HealthierUS Fitness Festival is held on the National Mall to observe National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. The third HealthierUS Fitness Challenge is held at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC to celebrate National Physical Fitness and Sports Month on May 6, 2006. In fall 2007, the second HealthierFeds Physical Activity Challenge is held. The expanded program included all three branches of government and independent agencies. Approximately 40,000 Federal workers, contractors, and their family members register.

The Council launches its collaboration with the American College of Sports Medicine.

In fall 2004, the President's Council launches the Healthier Feds Physical Activity Challenge for federal employees (30,000 Federal employees from 30 agencies participate).

In May 2005, President Bush issues Proclamation for National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.

On July 30, 2005, Lynn Swann retires as Council Chairman.

In January 2006, the Council launches its 50th Anniversary year by celebrating the accomplishments of its partners and friends and establishing a partnership initiative, "50th Anniversary Partners to Get America Moving!"

On May 3, 2007, the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award winners announced. The six recipients, Ken Cooper, M.D., Jack LaLanne, Judi Sheppard Missett, Bonnie Prudden, Bud Seretean, and Joe Weider, were honored at a joint awards luncheon with the United States Olympic Committee. The Council also announced its first Community Leadership Award winners, presented to 37 individuals nationwide.

On March 20, the Council launches the first National President's Challenge with a kick-off event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC featuring Council member Eli Manning and Acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, M.D., M.P.H. President George W. Bush announced the six-week physical activity challenge in the East Garden of the White House. Alaska was later recognized as the winner of the National President's Challenge.

On May 14, 2008, the Council launched the new national Adult Fitness Test at an event at a local gym in Washington, DC with the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, Acting Surgeon General Dr. Steven Galson, and The Biggest Loser contestant, Bernardo "Bernie" Salazar.

On October 7, 2008, HHS releases the first Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The launch was followed by a partnership forum run by the Council and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, which served as the leading offices in the development of the Guidelines.

Administration: Barack H. Obama

Date: 2009 -
Executive Director (Acting): RADM Penelope Slade – Sawyer, P.T., M.S.W., Jan 2009 – Aug 2009
Executive Director: Sergio Rojas, Aug 2009 – Oct 2009
Executive Director (Acting): RADM Penelope Slade – Sawyer, P.T., M.S.W., Oct 2009 – Feb 2010
Executive Director: Shellie Pfohl, M.S., Feb 2010 – Present
Co-chair: Drew Brees, September 2010 - Present
Co-chair: Dominique Dawes, September 2010 - Present

In January 2009, Penelope ("Penny") Slade - Sawyer is reappointed acting Executive Director, having previously held the position from December 2002 - October 2003.

In August 2009, Sergio Rojas is appointed Executive Director. Due to personal and professional reasons Rojas resigned shortly thereafter in October 2009. Slade - Sawyer steps back into the role as Acting Executive Director.

In February 2010, Shellie Pfohl is appointed as Executive Director.

On June 23, 2010, the White House announces a new Presidential Executive Order changing the Council's name to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, expands the mission of the Council to include nutrition, and increases the number of Council members from 20 to 25.

In September 2010, the First Lady Michelle Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announce the Million PALA Challenge —to get one million Americans to complete the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA). Between September 2010 and September 2011, 1.7 million Americans earned their PALA.

On May 9, 2011, with First Lady Michelle Obama, the Council announces the Joining Forces Fitness Initiative to provide free fitness benefits to National Guard and Reserve members and their families.

On May 10, 2011, the Council announces at its annual meeting the launch of the congressionally chartered National Foundation on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, and recognizes the appointment of its inaugural board of directors at a ceremony in the Senate Russell Building in Washington, DC.

On September 24, 2011, at Worldwide Day of Play on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the same day the President's Council announces the success of the Million PALA Challenge, the Council launches the new Presidential Active Lifestyle Award called PALA+ to include physical activity AND nutrition.

On April 30, 2012, Secretary Sebelius announces innovative partnership between the President's Council and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) to promote healthy lifestyles through active video games. The Active Play PALA+ Challenge was launched during an Active Gaming Showcase at a local school in Washington, DC with 40 elementary and middle school students.

On May 1, 2012, the President's Council holds its annual meeting at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. During the meeting the Council announces the five 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award winners and the 47 Community Leadership Award recipients.