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U.S. youth gaining weight, losing stamina.

U.S. youth gaining weight, losing stamina

In the age of Nintendo and nachos, kids may be choosing activities that engage the brain rather than the body. A new study, based on a physical fitness test administered at schools across the United States, shows a decline in students' cardiovascular endurance and an increase in their weight.

Study director Wynn F. Updyke of Indiana University at Bloomington described the unpublished results last week at a press conference in Washington, D.C. The ongoing testing, sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation Fund and the Amateur Athletic Union, involves an estimated 9.7 million of the 46 million U.S. schoolchildren. Updyke compared student performance from 1980 to 1989 on four tests of strength, endurance and flexibility.

Students older than 10 now take about a minute longer to run a mile, a decline possibly due to a 3.6- to 8.3-pound weight gain during the decade. While Updyke says the gain doesn't stem from height changes, his data do not reveal whether the extra pounds come from fat. But the 1985 and 1987 phases of the National Children and Youth Fitness Study do show U.S. kids getting fatter, says that study's author, James G. Ross of Macro Systems Inc. in Silver Spring, Md.

The good news from Updyke's analysis is that students in all categories improved their performance in sit-ups. On average, girls can also sustain a flexed arm hang longer, and boys in most categories can do more pull-ups.

Despite such upswings, Updyke maintains that kids are becoming more sedentary. "We are essentially cave-age, stone-age bodies attempting to cope in the space-age culture," he says.

Ross contends the survey results may not accurately reflect the fitness level of U.S. youth. He notes that Updyke drew his sample from schools voluntarily participating in the fitness program rather than from the total school population. Ross agrees, however, that cardiovascular fitness is declining.

Updyke's analysis also shows a decline in the proportion of students achieving "attainment" (average) or "outstanding" test ratings. Charles B. Corbin at Arizona State University in Tempe, president of the American Academy of Physical Education, says that decline may reflect discouragement among average or poor athletes. He says he has just completed research showing that top honors in standardized fitness tests tend to go to the same students who win other athletic prizes.
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Author:Loupe, D.E.
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 23, 1989
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