SI Vault
Dorothy Stull
May 26, 1958
June 1 to 7 has been set aside to consider fitness. A new Sports Illustrated survey again shows that despite publicity and some progress, leadership is still lacking
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May 26, 1958

A Fit Week For A Second Look

June 1 to 7 has been set aside to consider fitness. A new Sports Illustrated survey again shows that despite publicity and some progress, leadership is still lacking

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The poster at the left, announcing National Youth Fitness Week, will appear next week in every community across the nation. There is a week for practically everything in the American way of life, including doughnuts, but Youth Fitness Week has a special meaning to all Americans. For one thing, it reflects the personal concern felt by President Eisenhower about a vital national problem. The naming of this week is his fourth official act in behalf of fitness since he called a White House lunch three years ago to discuss the implications of the shocking report that American children physically lagged far behind their European contemporaries. The lunch was followed a year later by the first national conference on fitness at Annapolis and the resulting Executive Order creating the President's Council on Fitness and the President's Citizens Advisory Committee on Fitness.

Now, as the first official National Fitness Week is about to begin, it is appropriate to examine our successes and failures in solving the fitness problem during the period since the last SPORTS ILLUSTRATED progress report in August 1957. To find out how we stand today, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED sent a questionnaire to each member of the President's Citizens Advisory Committee, called for reports from its correspondents across the country, consulted surveys by professional organizations and interviewed representatives of the President's fitness groups, physical educators, recreationists, physicians, physiologists, teachers, parents and school children. The results, which provide more material for serious reflection than for congratulation, are presented herewith:


The President's Council on Youth Fitness can justly claim that its drumbeating has inspired at least some of the national progress noted in this report, but it has provided disappointingly little specific guidance and less leadership toward direct action.

There is no doubt that exposure to earnest speeches by Dr. Shane MacCarthy, executive director of the President's Council on Youth Fitness, has inspired many citizens to go beyond the thinking stage. C. Carson Conrad, coordinator of the vast and fast-growing fitness program in the state of California, acknowledges such inspiration from the council. "Those of us on the state level," he said, "are seeing many things happening because of the assist the President's Council is making at the national level."

But the "assist" continues to be primarily one of vaguely worded publicity and promotion releases for the fitness cause. The report to the President on the West Point fitness conference of last September, for example, appeared four months after the conference with a specific announcement by the council pointing to three pages of suggestions for "implementation." On close inspection the suggestions turned out to be no more than vague proposals: "schedule conferences to formulate plans...conduct surveys and develop programs...educate parents."

Another council release, the Plan for Action, was no improvement. It carried helpful hints such as: "Increased emphasis should be placed on physical activity for boys and girls," and, "The number of sport activities should be increased, where necessary." In the Plan for Action it is stated that "the Council will serve as a clearing house of information from...localities about their programs to improve fitness," but no localities or programs are listed or referred to.

A later release, Physical Evaluation at the Elementary School Age Level, is the result of a meeting of experts in physical education tests and measurements. The text makes it clear that the council does not endorse any one test over any other and that it recommends scoring a child against his own performance rather than against the performance of others. But it is virtually impossible to discover whether the council is in favor of any child being tested under any circumstances, although there is no direct admonition not to use tests, either. One can only conclude that either the council has no advice to give or is wary of doing so for fear of offending some group. Another example of the council's reluctance to step on any toes is its abandonment of a proposal to choose pilot cities for fitness experiments. According to a council spokesman, the idea was discarded because of possible jealousy among cities not chosen for the honor and a disinclination on the part of the council to establish controversial standards.

Indeed the council seemed to lose a considerable amount of its drive last December when Vice-President Nixon quietly relinquished his chairmanship because of the press of other affairs and turned his council duties over to Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton. The choice had some logical grounds—Seaton's department is in charge of National Parks and Mission 66, the long-range program to improve them for the nation's recreation. But from the start Secretary Seaton has had an attitude toward his new responsibility that was at times downright playful. In an interview about his new job, Seaton maintained that, "In this country you can't make anybody be physically fit." He suggested bird watching as a painless way to fitness, and remarked that the ordinary spectator can get a lot of exercise at a football game simply by having to walk from his car to the stadium and then climb stairs to get to his seat.

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