IOM Supports Direction of Presidential Youth Fitness Program
Stella Lucia Volpe, Ph.D., RD, LDN, FACSM, Chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Science Board
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report that provides guidance on youth fitness measures as they relate to health outcomes. The report affirmed that fitness is a marker for health among youth and the use of certain measures in a school setting can enhance student learning and provide feedback on current health status and future health risk.
Earlier this month, the Presidential Youth Fitness Program was launched by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, The Cooper Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, and the Amateur Athletic Union. The Presidential Youth Fitness Program is a comprehensive school-based program that includes fitness assessment, professional development and recognition. The IOM report confirmed that the Presidential Youth Fitness Program’s assessment, FITNESSGRAM®, includes valid, reliable and feasible measures to be used in schools to assess health-related fitness, The report also reinforced the importance of professional development for teachers that results in students who understand the importance of and have the opportunity to engage in physical activities that improve their fitness and overall health.
The program focuses on assessing students’ health-related fitness instead of measuring athletic performance. The necessity of doing so was supported by the IOM report. The strongest evidence is related to the use of the PACER test, identified in the IOM report as the “progressive shuttle run.” The PACER is the recommended test for assessing cardio-respiratory endurance in the FITNESSGRAM assessment. Strong evidence also exists for the use of Body Mass Index (BMI), which is also a test item widely used in schools today. Where initial differences with regards to tests assessing muscular fitness and flexibility may seem present, a closer look at the committee report denotes the push-up, modified pull-up, curl-up and sit and reach test for flexibility are valid, reliable and feasible tests to be implemented in the school setting and that these tests provide opportunities to teach youth about health and fitness. In addition to FITNESSGRAM, the Presidential Youth Fitness Program will have a significant focus on professional development by providing educational resources for parents, teachers and students.
It should be noted that the IOM recommendations were made based on the scientific evidence available to date. While there may be research for fitness measures as it relates to health in adults, there is limited research available for children. The President’s Council is in agreement with the IOM committee and hopes that additional data will be collected to address the many remaining questions related to health-based fitness assessment in youth.
We thank the IOM committee members for volunteering their time and expertise to this report. The science of fitness assessment is an ever evolving field and we are committed to maintaining the scientific integrity of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. As new research becomes available, we will continue to work with our partners to maintain the quality program we expect and our teachers and students deserve.