NHANES includes components pertinent to physical fitness and a 2012 NHANES Youth Fitness Survey is currently under way.

As discussed in Chapter 2, there have been many efforts to identify fitness tests and standardize a battery of such tests for youth. To this day, however, an array of tests continues to be used, selected based on various historical circumstances and understandings of the science. This report represents an effort to provide an evidence-based approach to selecting field-based fitness measures for youth for inclusion in a national fitness survey. Recommendations for tests to be used in schools and other educational settings are provided as well.


To better understand the content of this report, it is important to distinguish between physical fitness and physical activity. Physical fitness has been defined as “a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity” (HHS, 1996, p. 21). The focus of this report is on the potential health-related components of physical fitness: body composition, cardiorespiratory endurance, musculoskeletal fitness, and flexibility. Physical activity, on the other hand, is defined as “any body movement produced by muscle action that increases energy expenditure” (Castillo-Garzon et al., 2006, p. 213). There are many types of physical activities, such as exercise (physical activity with the purpose of improving fitness), sports, dance, and recreational activities. Box 1-1 and Appendix B provide the committee’s operational definitions of physical fitness and other terms used throughout the report.

Fitness tests are conducted for several purposes for both individuals (e.g., goal setting, planning for improvement, preparing for specific tasks) and society at large (e.g., assessing current fitness status, tracking changes, research). The ultimate purpose, however, is to improve the health and physical performance of individuals, as well as the population as a whole. As noted above and described in detail later in this report, fitness surveys have been conducted in the United States at both the national and state levels. Similarly, other countries have developed fitness test batteries and conducted national surveys (see Chapter 2).

Early national fitness tests included items commonly described as skill-related fitness, as well as items focused on health-related fitness. Since the first national fitness test was developed in 1958, appropriate items for inclusion in fitness test batteries have been the subject of debate. The first national health-related physical fitness test was developed in 1980 (AAHPERD, 1980), and since then there has been increased emphasis on defining the relationship of fitness items to health. While measures of performance-related fitness are designed to evaluate a person’s capability to carry out certain physical tasks

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