Long-Term Fitness

Oftentimes, lessons learned are too quickly forgotten. While some of you will remember the sit-ups, chin-ups and jumping jacks we all endured as part of the requirements for the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, our current physical shape and looks would make it seem that most of us have forgotten. Just look at the research and news reports. Did you know that, according to a March 2004 report by the Center for Disease Control, a poor diet and sedentary lifestyles kill 400,000 Americans a year and may soon overtake tobacco (435,000) as the leading cause of preventable death; or that almost two-thirds (64 percent) of American adults are overweight or obese (123 million people); or that 15 percent of American youth are overweight.

In truth, this is not a new problem. It’s just one that we haven’t seriously addressed in a long time. While most of us associate physical fitness in schools with President John F. Kennedy and the President’s Council of Physical Fitness, the issue actually came to light during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. The council formed after President Eisenhower learned the results of a report indicating that American children were less fit than European children. In 1956, President Eisenhower created the President's Council on Youth Fitness with cabinet-level status. The executive order specified "one" objective, serving as a "catalytic agent" by concentrating on creating public awareness. Then-Vice-President Richard Nixon was chair, and the council included cabinet secretaries as members.

In January 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order renaming the committee to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, and a nationwide public service advertising campaign was launched to get the message out. The executive order read in part:

WHEREAS recent studies, both private and public, have revealed disturbing deficiencies in the physical fitness of American youth; and

WHEREAS, since the youth of our Nation is one of our greatest assets, it is imperative that the physical fitness of our youth be improved and promoted to the greatest possible extent; and

WHEREAS there also are evidences of deficiencies in the physical fitness of American adults; and

WHEREAS there is a close relationship between physical fitness and intellectual vigor and moral strength; and

WHEREAS the physical fitness of its citizens is a concern of the government at all levels, as well as a responsibility of the family, the school, the community, and other groups and organizations…

The message sent then still holds true now, but somewhere along the line, we forgot its importance.

Physical and health education in schools needs to be about more than winning“The President’s Physical Fitness Award” and receiving a patch — it needs to be about developing a healthy way of life. Today’s kids spend more time watching TV on a Saturday morning than they do in PE classes in a week. NCLB has increased the time spent on core subjects like reading, writing and math, often at the expense of other subjects that are not measured or tested. While physical and health education may not be considered core academic subjects, ignoring them is a threat to the well-being of our students.

Ernie Boyer from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching may have said it best in his statement,“Clearly, no knowledge is more crucial than knowledge about health. Without it, no other life goal can be successfully achieved.”