SI Vault
Robert H. Boyle
August 15, 1955
It came from two physical fitness experts who tested U.S. and European youngsters, and it shows that the U.S. is rapidly becoming the softest nation in the world
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August 15, 1955

The Report That Shocked The President

It came from two physical fitness experts who tested U.S. and European youngsters, and it shows that the U.S. is rapidly becoming the softest nation in the world

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There is a problem in the United States today, one which goes far deeper and has more serious implications for the future of the nation than many of those which haunt the headlines daily. It is the problem of the physical fitness of U.S. youngsters, and it was highlighted recently in its most dramatic form at a White House luncheon. The luncheon was the idea of John B. Kelly Sr., a wealthy Philadelphia contractor and onetime national sculling champion. A few months back, Kelly had been shown a report which originally appeared in The New York State Journal of Medicine on the physical fitness of youngsters, and the findings looked so horrifying that he passed them on to Senator James Duff of Pennsylvania who, in turn, took the matter up with Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Present at the luncheon were Kelly, Duff and 30 sports celebrities, numbering among them such stars as Tony Trabert, Jack Fleck and Willie Mays. But this was one day the stars sat back. Along with the President, they listened in silence to a report by the two researchers whose findings had prompted the luncheon. The two researchers were Hans Kraus, M.D., Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at New York University, and Miss Ruth (Bonnie) Prudden, Director of the Institute for Physical Fitness at White Plains, N.Y. When they finished their report, the President called the problem a serious one. It was, he said, even more alarming than he had imagined. The President's guests could not help but agree.

In essence, what Dr. Kraus and Miss Prudden had told the gathering was this:

?that 57.9 % of U.S. youngsters tested for physical fitness failed one or more of six tests for muscular strength and flexibility while only 8.7 % of European youngsters failed.

?that 44.3 % of the U.S. youngsters failed the one flexibility test included in the above six tests while only 7.8% of the European youngsters failed.

?that 35.7% of the U.S. youngsters failed one or more of the five strength tests included in the above six tests while only 1.1% of the European youngsters failed. In Austria and Switzerland, the rate of failure was only 0.5%.

In this article SI presents the problem of the physical fitness, or rather unfitness, of U.S. youngsters in its full scope as the result of exhaustive interviews with the Kraus-Prudden research team and other authorities on the subject throughout the country.

The six tests on which the above figures are based are known collectively as the Kraus-Weber Tests for Muscular Fitness (see drawings below). They are the product of 15 years of research by Dr. Kraus and Dr. Sonja Weber in the Posture Clinic of Manhattan's Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. Since their development, the Kraus-Weber Tests have been administered to 4,264 youngsters in the U.S. and 2,870 children in Austria, Italy and Switzerland. (More than 40,000 U.S. youngsters have actually taken the tests, and while the results have not been published the rate of failure remains substantially the same.)

The U.S. and European youngsters tested were all between the ages of 6 and 16 and lived in comparable urban and suburban communities. "The Kraus-Weber Tests," Dr. Kraus explains, "are designed to determine only the minimum levels of muscular fitness, not the optimum levels. The tests determine whether or not the individual has sufficient strength and flexibility in the parts of his body upon which demands are made in normal daily living." For example, the sit-up test in which the knees are bent (see below) tests abdominal muscles. If a person fails, it means that his abdominal muscles cannot lift the weight of his upper body, and such a condition indicates a lack of sufficient exercise.

Surprisingly enough, the Kraus-Weber Test results show no great difference between urban-suburban and rural rates of failure in the U.S. And the same is true of children from different economic backgrounds; rich and poor fail at the same rate.

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