The cause: A
number of factors ranging from the playpen to the school bus to television—in
short, America's plush standard of living.
who as the former Mrs. Richard Hirsch-land herself mothered two children, put
it this way: "Many youngsters today have no bodies. To get a body, you've
got to start way back when the child is still a baby. Keep the babies out of
playpens and carriages. Let them go out and move about. Let youngsters climb
trees and fences to develop their muscles." Miss Prudden reflected,
'American mothers are afraid of their children hurting themselves. This is a
Band-aid society. If a child breaks an arm, the arm may be in a plaster cast
six weeks. That is not a catastrophe. The catastrophe is that so few
opportunities for adventure remain to children—and the few that do remain are
often curtailed by overanxious parents."
paying the price of progress," says Dr. Kraus, who states the case in
somewhat different terms. "The older generation was tougher because it had
to undergo adequate physical activity in the normal routine of living. We have
no wish to change the standard of living by trying to do away with the
automobile and television. But we must make sure that we make up for this loss
of physical activity. In other words, let's take the sting out of the
researchers have pointed out that lack of adequate physical activity can be
detrimental. Britain's J. A. Heady and J. N. Morris found that death from
coronary heart disease occurs with more than twice the incidence among the
physically less active than it does among the active. Moreover, once coronary
heart disease does strike, mortality is much higher among the less active. A
striking example was the comparison between British bus drivers and conductors.
The drivers, sitting all day behind the wheel, were far more susceptible to
coronary heart disease than were their more active colleagues, the conductors,
who spent the working day climbing up and down the stairs of the double-decker
researchers, both here and abroad, also have found that the physically inactive
person has high neuromuscular tension, high absolute and relative weight, high
blood pressure, high pulse rate, lower adrenocortical reserve and less vital
breathing capacity. Diabetes and duodenal ulcers are said to be two ailments
which also have a high incidence among the physically inactive.
is also the problem of emotional instability. It may be that the physically
inactive person is the one most likely to be plagued by emotional instability.
Miss Prudden found that principals, teachers and school psychologists would
almost always agree that the children who failed more than one test—including
the flexibility test—were usually those living under stress and exhibiting
emotional difficulties in their classes.
public institutions are particularly interested in this point. Physical
education authorities at West Point have found in a recent study that 12.9% of
the cadets who finished in the lowest category on the Academy's physical
aptitude test needed either psychiatric help or received psychiatric
discharges. But no psychiatric difficulties were encountered in the most
physically fit cadets.
The city of New
Orleans has come up with some interesting figures pertaining to its juvenile
delinquency rate. For a waterfront city imbued with a tradition of Gallic joie
de vivre, New Orleans has had little trouble with juvenile delinquency, at
least not since the New Orleans Recreation Department came into existence in
1947. Mayor Delesseps S. Morrison reports: "Before we inaugurated NORD, our
city had only 30 playgrounds, in many cases totally inadequate. Today we have
131 playgrounds located in every neighborhood in New Orleans. Most of them are
floodlighted. All of them are adequately supervised. Before 1947 our municipal
confinement home showed a daily average population of 300 boys. Today that
figure has been cut to 100, or one-third of the previous number."
If any blame is
to be handed out, the parents should be the first in line. Children show up for
school physically unprepared—54% of the 6-year-olds fail to pass the
Kraus-Weber Tests. After the parents, the schools must be blamed. That the
schools have fallen down on the job is evident when one notes that 52 % of the
high school graduates tested failed the Kraus-Weber Tests. Private schools,
which devote much more time to physical education, have only a 14% failure rate
mean that something can't be done now. It can, and regardless of the facilities
a given school may lack. For example, in the winter of 1954, the Institute for
Physical Fitness set up its first pilot study plant at the Whitcomb High and
Junior High School in Bethel, Vt. The children came from a rural area, but for
the most part they enjoyed many of the modern gadgets and conveniences found in
city life. The rate of failure on the Kraus-Weber Tests was 46% for those
students in the pilot group. The school had no gym, but Principal Robert Noble
asked what could be done. The answer: exercises once a day for 20 minutes. Six
weeks later the rate of failure at Bethel was only 6%.