How Fit is Your Kid

Youth fitness testing report recommends BMI and shuttle run techniques

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Physical education teachers could have students count the number of push-ups and sit-ups they can do to see how fit they are. But there has been little evidence on which techniques work best to measure other areas of health in kids.

Testing children's fitness now focuses on three parts, a committee has found.

"Make sure children's fitness tests are safe and reliable."

Fitness testing has mostly and traditionally been done on adults.

Individuals taking a fitness test can have four things measured:
• how well their heart and lungs function
• how much of their body is fat versus muscle
• their flexibility
• the strength and endurance of their bones and muscles.

A committee from the Institute of Medicine reviewed the tests to see which would be best for testing youth.

Fitness tests used at schools teach the importance of physical fitness to children and their families and guide them in maintaining good fitness and health.

According to the report, three of the components are fitting to test on young people.

This includes measuring the heart and lungs, fat and muscle mass, and the fitness of their bones and muscles.

The committee recommends using the shuttle run to test kids' endurance. In the test, participants sprint back and forth between two points.

If space is limited, treadmills are another reliable option.

They also recommend measuring kids' body mass index (BMI) by taking their weight and height into account.

Measuring kids' skin folds by pinching different parts of their body with special calipers makes the BMI more accurate.

Tests such as a 1-mile run, modified pull-ups or push-ups, and sit-and-reach tests can be educational and thus used as supplementary measurements of fitness in schools, the committee said.

National youth fitness surveys and fitness tests done at school should include these measurements, the committee's report says.

It also notes testing should also be safe, reliable and suitable for the school setting.

The committee did not find a strong link between flexibility and health for young people, so it was not included in the recommended fitness tests.

"This report's recommendations offer helpful guidance to those designing fitness batteries targeted at children and adolescents," said committee chair Russell Pate, professor of exercise science at the Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, in a press release.

"Collecting more data through surveys and in schools will advance our understanding about how fitness in early years translates into better health throughout a lifetime."

Across the country, more and more national programs are testing children's fitness levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the 2012 NHANES National Youth Fitness Survey, which is the first fitness test for young people since the mid-80s.

And the Presidential Youth Fitness Program announced in early September their adoption of the FITNESSGRAM, a series of tests from the Cooper Institute. Much of the school-based fitness testing follows this program.

School staff members and those issuing the tests should be sensitive of students' self-esteem and respect their privacy when sharing results with the students and their families, the committee said.

The report was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 2, 2012
Last Updated:
October 2, 2012