In December 1953, Dr. Hans Kraus, M.D., associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at New York University and an avid mountain climber, sounded an alarm. Kraus and his associate, Ms. Bonnie Prudden, published an article, “Muscular Fitness and Health,” in the Journal of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, claiming that the nation was becoming soft. The affluent lifestyle of 20th century America was making life so easy and effortless that American adults and children were rapidly losing muscle tone. To compensate, the authors warned, Americans would have to engage in regular exercise to attain a state of physical fitness comparable to that of an earlier era, when Americans walked for transportation, worked on farms, and accomplished most activities of daily living and work through manual labor.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Kraus and his associates had published several other papers emphasizing the woeful state of the nation’s physical fitness, including another article co-authored with Prudden (under the name Ruth P. Hirschland), which appeared in the New York State Journal of Medicine. Working with Dr. Sonja Weber at the Posture Clinic of Manhattan’s Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, Kraus had designed the Kraus-Weber Tests for Muscular Fitness. The article in the New York State Journal of Medicine reported the results of a study that administered the Kraus-Weber Tests to about 4,400 students between ages 6 and 16 in public school systems across the United States and to about 3,000 European students in the same age range in Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. The test results were startling: 56 percent of the U.S. students failed at least one of the test components, which included activities such as leg lifts, sit-ups, trunk lifts, and toe touches. However, only about 8 percent of the European children failed even one of the test components.
No matter what age, gender, or test, European kids held a decisive edge. Kraus attributed the test results to lifestyle. Europeans relied less on automobiles, school buses, and elevators. European children walked miles to school, rode bicycles, hiked, and chopped and hauled wood for home heating. In contrast, American children were largely driven in cars by their parents, confined to their own neighborhoods, and obligated to perform only easy chores such as making their own beds and setting the table, nothing more strenuous than walking the dog or mowing the lawn.
Kraus’s article in the New York State Journal of Medicine caught the attention of John Kelly, a successful Philadelphia contractor better known as the father of actress Grace Kelly than as an athlete (national sculling champion) and wartime physical fitness officer. Horrified at the implications of Kraus’ findings, Kelly passed the report along to Sen. James Duff of Pennsylvania. Duff was so shaken by Kraus’ findings that he took the issue up with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who reportedly stated that he too was “shocked” by the trends exposed by Kraus and called the test results “alarming.”
In 1954, Kraus was invited to present his report to the national convention of the American Medical Association in Atlantic City. This opportunity gave him a forum to sound an alarm in the mainstream media. Magazines such as U.S. News and World Report,Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated seized on the test findings and provided interview opportunities for Kraus to put his messages front and center before the American people: Getting and maintaining physical fitness through exercise is key to physical and emotional well-being; U.S. children coming into the first grade were already muscle deficient; U.S. public schools weren’t offering enough physical activity to reverse the trend.
The media “buzz” generated by Kraus, coupled with his determination to take his case to the highest levels of the federal government, finally began to get results. Despite lack of agreement among health and fitness professionals about the adequacy of the Kraus-Weber Tests and about the reliability of the results showing American children to be less fit than Europeans, many leaders in the physical education community viewed Kraus’ work as a welcome opportunity to promote more school PE programs.
Kraus and Prudden were invited to a White House luncheon held on July 11, 1955, to present the findings of their report to 30 government leaders, medical researchers, and sports personalities. Following the luncheon, President Eisenhower directed Vice President Richard Nixon to call a meeting to decide what actions the government should take in view of Kraus’ results. The resulting meeting took place less than a month later, on Aug. 8, 1955, and included Kraus and Prudden, sports leaders, government workers, and educators. That group, in turn, recommended that the focus of the government response should be youth fitness and called for a conference of leaders and experts to develop specific recommendations.
Although the conference was scheduled to be held immediately, it was delayed almost a year because of the president’s illness. Finally, on June 18-19, 1956, the President’s Conference on the Fitness of American Youth was held at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. At the president’s direction, Nixon presided as conference chairman. Attending were 140 participants, including Kraus and Prudden; national, state, and local government leaders; educators; people representing the fields of health, medicine, and sport; youth and civic organizations; and media.
The broad range of recommendations generated during the conference included the following:
- The public must be made aware of the problem of establishing and maintaining fitness;
- Fitness must be popularized and promoted among youth;
- Research on fitness is needed to decide what kind and how much;
- Out of school programs should include agencies already working in the field (e.g. Boy and Girl Scouts, YMCA, etc.);
- Funds for any programs and initiatives should come from private industry, foundations, community chests; a greater share of tax revenues should be allocated to community recreation;
- Schools should have more time, equipment, and personnel for physical education and should focus increased attention on children who are not athletically gifted, rather than on “stars;”
- The standards and prestige of the physical education profession must be raised;
- Community recreational facilities should be increased and better use made of existing facilities;
- All children must have periodic medical examinations;
- Better leadership is needed for physical activity at home, in the school, and in the community, and adults should be role models for physical fitness.
- Girls should have equal opportunities for physical fitness.
“I believe you and I share the feeling that more and better coordinated attention should be given to this most precious asset – our youth – within the Federal government. By this I do not mean that we should have an over-riding Federal program. The fitness of our young people is essentially a home and local community problem; … your deliberations also reveal a need for arousing in the American people a new awareness of the importance of physical and recreational activity ... ”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Letter to Participants,
President’s Conference on the Fitness of American Youth
On July 16, 1956, President Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness (Executive Order 10673); in the same Executive Order, the president called for creation of a Citizens Advisory Committee on the Fitness of American Youth. Eisenhower envisioned the President’s Council on Youth Fitness as a catalytic agency that would educate, stimulate, motivate, and encourage local communities and individual Americans to promote and adopt active lifestyles.
The Council “must continue to be, a stimulator, a catalyst. Neither the President nor ourselves intended that the Council develop into a centralized, bureaucratic agency, with regional, state, and local offices doling out federal funds to ‘hand down’ a uniform code for fitness and to prescribe to every community in the Nation what should be done to improve the state of fitness of its young people.”
Fred A. Seaton, chairman, President’s Council on Youth Fitness, 1958
President Eisenhower strongly believed that communities and organizations at the grassroots level were the appropriate agents to design programs and implement corrective actions to address the concerns identified at the federal level. The role of the Council would be to sound the alarm and identify concerns, to be a “catalytic agent” to stimulate and encourage action at the grassroots level.
HIGHLIGHTS IN THE HISTORY OF THE PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL ON PHYSICAL FITNESS AND SPORTS (19562006)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953-1961
As a former military officer, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was sensitive to the need for fitness among the pool of America’s potential fighting forces and was familiar with the complaints of recruiters and officers in the armed forces about the poor fitness levels of American draftees during World War II and the Korean War. At that time, a reported 50 percent of men who showed up at draft boards throughout the nation were considered physically unfit. President Eisenhower was also concerned about the growing problem of juvenile delinquency and considered physical exercise an important measure to keep youth on the playground and off the streets. Sensitive to the appropriate roles of “home and local community,” President Eisenhower envisioned parents, schools, and local organizations as the ones to oversee the activities of American children.
“The task of the Federal government is to assist the educators and the many fine organizations, now dealing with the problem, that they may improve and advance projects that are already underway … I will ask members of my Cabinet who head departments having activities in this area to serve on this Council. Thereby, we can be assured that top level attention will be directed constantly to this most important field, and the activities of some 35 Federal agencies will be better coordinated.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Executive Order
The first President’s Council on Youth Fitness was chaired by Vice President Nixon; Council members were Cabinet secretaries of the Departments of Interior; Agriculture; Labor; Health, Education and Welfare; and the Attorney General. Funding for Council activities came from the agencies. The Citizens Advisory Committee on the Fitness of American Youth was envisioned as a group of key citizens from a variety of disciplines, whose assignment was to study the problem and to alert the American people about what should be done to achieve the goal of a fit American youth.
As the Cabinet-level members of the Council and Citizens Advisory Committee continued to define and refine their roles and responsibilities during the early years, Interior Secretary Fred A. Seaton, chairman of the Council in 1958, reiterated President Eisenhower’s vision of the structure and limitations of the Council, which would be a “stimulator, a catalyst.”
By calling attention to the poor state of youth fitness, President Eisenhower set a serious tone for the Council and outlined limited parameters for the organization rather than dictating specific actions and programs from the top down. His view was that it was the role of the federal government to sound the alarm and identify concerns, to be a “catalytic agent” to stimulate and encourage the action at the grassroots level. The function of the Council would be to persuade and educate the American people to do something about fitness, not to dictate policy. To that end, the president sent his Council administrator, Shane McCarthy, around the nation to speak to Americans about the importance of physical fitness.
President John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963
Shortly before he took office, President-elect John F. Kennedy identified physical fitness as a defining principle of his administration. The first media-savvy president to campaign extensively on television, the president-elect mobilized the power of the mainstream media by publishing an article, “The Soft American,” in Sports Illustrated (Dec. 26, 1960) less than a month before his inauguration. It was a first – a president-elect writing an article in the popular media to announce public policy before taking office.
In his Sports Illustrated piece, President Kennedy outlined four points as the basis of his physical fitness program: a White House Committee on Health and Fitness; direct oversight of the initiative by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; an annual Youth Fitness Conference to be attended by state governors; and an unambiguous assertion that physical fitness was the business of the federal government. He concluded the article by laying the foundation for reorganizing the Council. Within a month of his inauguration, President Kennedy spoke at the Conference on Physical Fitness of Youth. Under President Kennedy, the President’s Council would not only spread the word to Americans about the importance of physical fitness for youth but would also conduct youth fitness surveys, publish fitness information, and offer technical advice to schools and communities about how to improve physical fitness not only for youth but for Americans of all ages.
Although the Council did not have the authority to impose a national physical fitness program, state and local leaders indicated to the Council that they would welcome guidance. President Kennedy selected Charles (“Bud”) Wilkinson, athletic director and football coach at the University of Oklahoma, as the first Physical Fitness Consultant to the President. Wilkinson assembled a professional staff that included Richard Snider (administrator), C. Carson Conrad, and Glenn Swengros.
The Council developed a physical fitness curriculum in consultation with major educational and medical organizations, and published and distributed hundreds of thousands of free publications, including “Youth Physical Fitness” (the “Blue Book”) in 1961. In 1962, Kennedy published a second article in Sports Illustrated (“The Vigor We Need”). The booklet “Adult Physical Fitness” was published in 1963. That year, a committee was formed by the Council to determine the organization’s role in research. Two documents resulted: “Physical Fitness Research Needs” and “Proposed Physical Fitness Research Projects.”
“We want a nation of participants in the vigorous life. This is not a matter which can be settled, of course, from Washington. It is really a matter which starts with each individual family. It is my hope ... that the communities will be concerned, to make it possible for young boys and girls to participate actively in the physical life; and that men and women who have reached the age of maturity will concern themselves with maintaining their own participation in this phase of national vigor – national life.”
President John F. Kennedy,
Conference on Physical Fitness of Youth, 1961
When President Kennedy unearthed an old executive order dating back to Theodore Roosevelt, which challenged Marine officers to walk 50 miles in 20 hours, he challenged the White House staff to take a 50-mile hike. As a lark, Attorney General Robert Kennedy accepted the challenge and walked the 50 miles wearing leather oxford shoes. American citizens (mistakenly) thought the president had challenged the public to undertake 50-mile hikes. The Council office quickly explained that while walking for exercise was encouraged, the Council was not sponsoring or rewarding 50-mile hikes.
But the public response to the perceived challenge from the president signaled that the Council’s physical fitness message was hitting home and gave the Council legitimacy among its most important audience: average Americans. The country readily embraced a public awareness campaign promoting physical fitness by the National Advertising Council, which blanketed 650 television stations and 3,500 radio stations. Even Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and other cartoonists joined the campaign by promoting exercise in cartoon strips.
Aging boomers today recall exercising to “Chicken Fat,” a fun song performed by Robert Preston and written by “The Music Man” himself, Meredith Willson, to support the popular cause of physical fitness.
A million school children took part in Council-sponsored pilot projects to test children’s fitness levels. Numerous other national projects were developed, including state demonstration centers to serve as a showcase for model elementary and secondary physical education programs. Other projects included clinics and the production of educational films and booklets.
Although both youth and adult fitness had been the focus of the Council’s mission throughout the Kennedy administration, during his final year in office, the president officially expanded the Council’s mission to include Americans of all ages (Executive Order 11074, Jan. 9, 1963) and renamed the organization the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1969
President Lyndon B. Johnson went forward with the Council programs put in place during the Kennedy administration. President Johnson initially appointed baseball star Stan Musial as Consultant to the President on Physical Fitness; when Musial resigned to take a position in professional sports management, the president asked Vice President Hubert Humphrey to serve as both Council chairman and Consultant to the President on Physical Fitness. President Johnson later appointed Capt. James A. Lovell, U.S. Navy, an astronaut for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to be Consultant to the President on Physical Fitness. President Johnson's Council was the last to have the Cabinet secretaries serve as its members.
To collect data for development of new norms for youth aged 10 to 17, the Council conducted the second national fitness survey in 1964. Based on the results of the survey, the Council established its longstanding award for youth fitness, the beginning of its signature program.
Established in 1966, the Presidential Physical Fitness Award for exceptional achievement was originally administered by the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (AAHPER). The award recognized children in good academic standing who scored in the upper 15th percentile on activities such as a softball throw, a broad jump, a 50-yard dash, and a 600-yard walk/run.
“The fitness of our nation for the tasks of our times can never be greater than the general physical fitness of our citizens. A people proud of their collective heritage will take pride in their individual health, because we cannot stay strong as a country if we go soft as citizens.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson
President Johnson strongly believed that participation in sports was an important part of physical fitness. In 1968, he expanded the Council's mandate to include sports and renamed the Council the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (Executive Order 11398). The Council undertook the supervision of the National Summer Youth Sports Program, which provided sports instruction, competition, nutritious lunches, and medical screening for disadvantaged youth. Located on college campuses, the program was administered by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, under Council supervision.
Convinced that fitness was a major health issue, President Johnson broadened the Council's role to include conducting cooperative programs with the medical professions to stimulate research. The Council increasingly provided technical assistance to school systems and departments of education to improve health and fitness programs.
Near the end of his term, President Johnson moved the Council from the White House to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (later renamed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), where it remains today.
President Richard M. Nixon, 1969-1974
When Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, Capt. James A. Lovell followed protocol and turned in his resignation so that the new president could appoint his own consultant. Nixon invited Lovell to stay on both as Consultant to the President and as Chairman of the Council. It was a year before Lovell’s famous Apollo 13 flight.
Lovell recommended that the president appoint physical fitness experts and athletes to be members of the Council. This recommendation was enthusiastically supported by health and fitness organizations, sports professionals, and physical educators.
In 1970 (Executive Order 11562), President Nixon eliminated the Cabinet structure of the Council and created a council comprised of 15 nationally-recognized fitness and sports figures as members, with Lovell as chairman. President Nixon gave the Council a new charter, and the position of executive director was created. The Council was given an executive director and a professional staff that included V.L. Nicholson, Glenn V. Swengros, and Dr. Richard Keelor. The Council also appointed special advisors in 1970, to stimulate the development of physical fitness programs for employees, enhance public relations activities, and explore the possibility of private support for Council projects.
During the Nixon administration (1971), the Council published the first issue of Physical Fitness Research Digest, a quarterly edited by research consultant Harrison Clarke. In 1972, the Council created a new award, the Presidential Sports Award, to motivate both youth and adults to commit to long-term participation in sports and fitness activities. The Presidential Physical Fitness Awards school program was expanded to allow use by recreation departments and youth groups such as Scouts and Boys and Girls Clubs as well as school physical education programs. Three conferences on fitness in business and industry were conducted by the Council during President Nixon’s administration (1972, 1973, and 1974).
President Nixon was credited with reorganizing the Council and for bringing an executive director and professional staff on board to actualize Council programs. C. Carson (“Casey”) Conrad served as the Council’s first executive director (1970-1984).
President Gerald R. Ford, 19741977
President Gerald R. Ford was an excellent role model for Americans to emulate. An enthusiastic skier who swam daily, President Ford welcomed the recommendations of his Council, under the leadership of Capt. Lovell, who stressed that physical fitness must be a national priority. Despite the best efforts of the Council, youth fitness tests showed no gains; rejection rates in the armed forces remained high; and the economic costs of poor health were increasing rapidly. Endorsing the Council’s goals, objectives, and projects fully, President Ford issued Executive Order 11562 (Oct. 25, 1976), which referred for the first time to the Council’s responsibility to assist business, industry, government, and labor organizations in establishing physical fitness programs to promote better health and reduce the costs of physical inactivity. Ford’s executive order also emphasized the Council’s role in educating the public about the connection between physical activity and good health.
C. Carson Conrad was executive director of the Council during the Ford administration.
President James E. Carter, 19771981
President Jimmy Carter was an outspoken and passionate advocate and role model for physical fitness – he was a regular jogger and walker who also enjoyed tennis and bowling. President Carter made himself readily available to speak about the importance of physical fitness and appeared at Council meetings and conferences. As keynote speaker at the National Conference on Physical Fitness and Sports, President Carter described fitness programs as “the best possible investment in health.” C. Carson Conrad was executive director of the Council during the Carter administration.
President Ronald W. Reagan, 1981-1989
Although he was the oldest man to serve as the nation’s chief executive, President Ronald Reagan took an active role in the physical fitness program of his Council and frequently met with Council members, consultants, advisors, and staff at the White House. President Reagan also appeared in TV and print advertising campaigns promoting fitness and sent a taped message to an awards dinner for the National Fitness Foundation in New York. What was arguably his most influential contribution was his appointment of dynamic and proactive NFL coach George Allen (1981-87) as chairman of the Council. In response to Allen’s recommendations, President Reagan issued Executive Order 12399 (Dec. 31, 1982), which called for the Council to do the following:
- enlist the active support and assistance of individual citizens, civic groups, private enterprise, voluntary organizations, and others in efforts to promote and improve the fitness of all Americans through regular participation in physical fitness and sports activities;
- initiate programs to inform the general public of the importance of exercise and the link between regular physical activity, good health, and effective performance;
- strengthen coordination of federal services and programs relating to physical fitness and sports participation and invite appropriate federal agencies to participate in an interagency committee to coordinate physical fitness and sports activities within the federal government;
- encourage state and local governments to emphasize the importance of regular physical fitness and sports participation;
- seek to advance the physical fitness of children, youth, adults, and senior citizens by systematically encouraging the development of community recreation, physical fitness, and sports participation programs;
- develop cooperative programs with medical, dental, and other similar professional societies to encourage the implementation of sound physical fitness practices and sports medicine services;
- stimulate and encourage research in the areas of sports medicine, physical fitness, and sports performance;
- assist educational agencies at all levels in developing high-quality, innovative health and physical education programs that emphasize the importance of exercise to good health;
- assist recreation agencies and national sports governing bodies at all levels in developing “sports for all” programs to emphasize the value of sports to physical, mental, and emotional fitness;
- assist business, industry, government, and labor organizations in establishing sound physical fitness programs to elevate employee fitness and reduce the financial and human costs resulting from physical inactivity.
Ever the enthusiastic coach and motivator throughout his six-year tenure as chairman, Allen stimulated the Council to stretch, to imagine all possibilities and make them happen. Under his leadership, the Council established regional sports clinics and private-sector employee programs; established programs to inform the general public of the importance of exercise and the link between regular physical activity, good health, and effective performance; conducted public service advertising campaigns (usually two major media campaigns a year); worked with the U.S. Postal Service to issue a physical fitness postage stamp; published a Council newsletter; published numerous public information materials in cosponsorship with private companies and groups; established Governors’ Councils on Physical Fitness, State Demonstration Centers, and State Games; established the State Champion program recognizing schools with the highest percentage of students earning awards; expanded activities for the Presidential Sports Award; cosponsored medical symposiums for physicians and physical educators, which focused on the role of exercise in disease prevention; organized the National Fitness Coalition, a cooperative effort by the Council, the National Recreation and Parks Association, and the National Association of Governors’ Councils; and initiated National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, encouraging local communities to increase participation in sports and fitness activities such as fitness fairs, fun walks and runs, media events, and panel discussions.
Other initiatives spearheaded by Allen and the other Reagan administration Council members were the National Fitness Foundation; the U.S. Fitness Academy; the National Fitness Classic; the Adult Fitness Card; the National Fitness Testing Week; and Youth Fitness Forums.
During the Reagan administration, the Council appointed 44 special advisors. In 1983, the Council hosted the White House Symposium on Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine and proclaimed May as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. In 1984, the Council sponsored the National Conference on Youth Fitness; held six regional public hearings on physical fitness and physical education; and sponsored the first National Women’s Leadership Conference on Fitness, with the first lady as honorary chair.
During that period, the Council, in cooperation with the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), introduced a program known as “Fitnessgram,” based on the AAHPERD National Youth Fitness Test. The program was developed by the Institute for Aerobic Research and funded by the Campbell Soup Company. A pilot study was conducted in Oklahoma during the 1982-83 school year and expanded the following year.
In 1985, the National School Population Fitness Survey was conducted, the last survey of its kind by the Council. This resulted in the establishment of a new award, the National Physical Fitness Award, to recognize children who scored between the 50th and 85th percentiles on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, as well as children who performed at the 85th percentile and above, who continued to receive the Presidential Physical Fitness Award.
By the mid-1980s, the youth fitness test had five components: sit-ups; pull-ups, push-ups, or flexed-arm hang to measure upper body strength; a one-mile walk/run; a V-sit reach; and the shuttle run. In 1986, the Council adopted the name “President’s Challenge Youth Physical Fitness Awards Program” for its youth physical fitness testing. In 1988, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), in collaboration with the University of Indiana School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER), became the administrator of the President’s Challenge program.
One of the most popular initiatives undertaken by the Reagan administration was the Healthy American Fitness Leaders Awards (1984 to 1996). The annual awards banquet, cosponsored by Allstate Insurance and the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), recognized 10 outstanding fitness leaders each year. The awardees eventually formed the National Fitness Leaders Association (NFLA), headquartered in Washington, D.C.
C. Carson Conrad served as executive director during President Reagan’s first term; Asahel E. (“Ash”) Hayes was executive director from 1984-1989.
George H.W. Bush, 1989-1993
By appointing Arnold Schwarzenegger as his Council chairman, President George H. W. Bush achieved a level of recognition and popular awareness of the Council unseen since the days of President Kennedy. “Arnold” (as everyone called the chairman) understood how to use the celebrity gained as a body builder (seven-time winner of Mr. Olympia) and as a Hollywood film star to give maximum exposure to the Council and its messages. On his own initiative and at his own expense, Schwarzenegger traveled to all 50 states to advocate personally to governors the need for daily, quality physical education in American schools.
Great American Workouts. During Schwarzenegger’s tenure as chairman, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month became a nationally televised celebration, when President and Mrs. Bush joined Arnold and other celebrity athletes and Hollywood personalities at “Great American Workouts” held on the White House lawn during President Bush’s administration.
Council administrative changes under the Bush administration included an increase in the number of Council members from 15 to 20, and an increased emphasis on public-private collaborations on physical fitness programs and initiatives.
"What a dynamic time to serve as a member of the President's Council! Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Bush had such a passion for fitness and health. We worked very hard to make a difference, especially to the youth of this country."
In 1989, the Council was named lead agency on the physical activity and fitness priority area of the government report, “Healthy People 2000,” published every 10 years by the HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) served as science advisor.
During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell (1989-91) and John Butterfield (1991-93) served as executive directors.
William J. Clinton, 1993-2001
President Bill Clinton appointed Florence Griffith Joyner (“Flo Jo”) and Tom McMillen as Council co-chairs. Olympic track and field medalist Griffith Joyner was both the first woman and the first African American to serve in a Council leadership position. After McMillen’s retirement from the Council and Griffith Joyner’s untimely death, President Clinton appointed Lee Haney, body builder and eight-time Mr. Olympia winner, as Council chair (1999-2002). Haney was the first African American to serve as sole Council chair.
In 1993, the Council conducted a Strategic Planning Forum to discuss an adult fitness survey and obtain recommendations on how to improve physical activity and fitness among Americans. Under a partnership with the Advil Foundation, “The Nolan Ryan Fitness Guide” was made available to over 850,000 Americans. In 1994, the Council established the Silver Eagle Award to promote fitness among seniors. That same year, the Council began publishing a quarterly periodical, the PCPFS Physical Activity and Fitness Research Digest.
Get Up, Get Out Campaign. In 1995, the Council partnered with the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association (SGMA), the International Health and Raquet Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), and the Advertising Council (“Ad Council”) to develop a three-year public awareness campaign focusing on youth fitness. Under the catchy slogans “Get Off It” and “Get Up, Get Out,” the cutting edge campaign featured spots promoting exercise to sedentary, overweight adults and children.
Flexing the Nation’s Muscle. In 1996, in partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration, the Council cosponsored “Flexing the Nation’s Muscle: Presidents, Physical Fitness and Sports in the American Century,” a traveling exhibit about physical activity and fitness among 20th century presidents. The exhibit traveled to presidential libraries around the country before being retired and stored at the Truman Library.
In the mid-1990s, the Council moved its offices to the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and became an increasingly important component of HHS, within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH), Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS). During this period, studies increasingly revealed the scientific basis for the role played by physical activity and fitness in disease prevention and overall good health.
Healthy People 2010 and Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. During the Clinton administration, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports served as co-lead with the CDC in developing physical activity and fitness objectives for Healthy People 2010, the government’s statement of goals and objectives for the next decade, and as co-lead in the Surgeon General’s report “Physical Activity and Health.”
The publication in 1996 of the Surgeon General’s landmark report signaled a major shift in the way physical fitness was viewed and discussed by the general public as well as health and fitness professionals. Now “physical activity” joined “physical fitness” as a recognized essential for good health. Among the findings reported in “Physical Activity and Health” are:
- People of all ages, both male and female, benefit from regular physical activity;
- Significant health benefits can be obtained by including a moderate amount of physical activity (e.g. 30 minutes of brisk walking or raking leaves, 15 minutes of running, or 45 minutes of playing volleyball) on most, if not all, days of the week. Through a modest increase in daily activity, most Americans can improve their health and quality of life.
- Additional health benefits can be gained through greater amounts of physical activity. People who can maintain a regular regimen of activity that is of longer duration or of more vigorous intensity are likely to derive greater benefit;
- Physical activity reduces the risk of premature mortality in general and of coronary heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes in particular. Physical activity also improves mental health and is important for the health of muscles, bones, and joints.
- Research on understanding and promoting physical activity is at an early stage, but some interventions to promote physical activity through schools, worksites, and healthcare settings have been evaluated and found to be successful.
Physical Activity and Sport in the Lives of Girls. In 1997, the Council published a report, “Physical Activity and Sport in the Lives of Girls,” under the direction of the Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, University of Minnesota. The report described the status of physical activity and sports for women and girls in athletics, discussed the impact of Title IX, and recommended further ways to promote physical activity and sports opportunities for women and girls, noting that young females were twice as likely to be inactive as young males.
Promoting Better Health For Young People through Physical Activity and Sports. In 2000, President Clinton issued an Executive Memorandum, directing the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education to identify strategies to improve the nation’s youth fitness. The report, “Promoting Better Health For Young People through Physical Activity and Sports,” was submitted to the president in November 2000.
www.fitness.gov. In January 2001, shortly before President Clinton left office, the Council launched www.fit-ness.gov, a gateway Web site to the vast government information resources available on physical activity, fitness and health.
During the Clinton administration, Sandra Perlmutter was the Council’s executive director, the first woman to serve in that position (1993-2001).
President George W. Bush
President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13265 on June 6, 2002, reinvigorating the Council and reaffirming its role in advising and assisting the president and the secretary of Health and Human Services in expanding national awareness of the health benefits of regular physical activity and sports.
On June 20, 2002, President Bush introduced his President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports at a fitness festival and expo on the South Lawn of the White House. In appointing NFL Hall of Fame winner and four-time Super Bowl champion Lynn C. Swann as chairman, and Olympic Softball gold medalist and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dorothy G. (“Dot”) Richardson as vice chair, the president recognized their value as dynamic role models and national spokespersons.
Highly sought-after motivational speakers, Swann and Richardson took the president’s health and physical activity messages to audiences nationwide through conference presentations and media appearances.
The other members of Bush’s Council included professional athletes, U.S. Olympians, physicians, educators, organization leaders, and corporate executives.
HealthierUS. When he introduced his Council, President Bush also launched his HealthierUS initiative, based on the premise that anyone can improve health by adopting four basic behaviors:
- Be physically active every day.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Get preventive screenings.
- Make healthy choices/avoid risky behaviors
Prevention. During the Bush administration, the president, HHS secretaries, the Surgeon General, and the Council members stressed a uniform message: prevention is key to overcoming the nation’s health problems. Swann and Richardson testified before several congressional committees about the health benefits of physical activity.
In 2001, the Council introduced a new award, the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA), developed as a response to the key findings of the 1996 Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health.
The President’s Challenge Grows Up. On Jan. 15, 2003, Council Chairman Lynn Swann announced at the National Press Club that for the first time, the President’s Challenge awards program would be offered to adults as well as youth. Swann announced that the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) was now available to adults, including seniors, as well as children and teens. Americans of all ages could earn a PALA by being active 30 to 60 minutes a day, five days a week for six weeks.
www.presidentschallenge.org. A few months later (July 18, 2003), President Bush and Swann launched www.presidentschallenge.org, the Council’s interactive physical activity and fitness online program. The new President’s Challenge offered an award for active lifestyles (PALA) and
for points logged toward earning medals (Presidential Champions award). The more than 100 activities included in the program range from traditional sports and activities, such as walking, running, swimming, baseball and soccer, to yoga, tai chi, dancing, housework, and gardening.
The President’s Challenge interactive Web site was designed to be highly adaptable for individuals, families, schools, after school programs, clubs, workplace wellness programs, sports and fitness facilities, senior centers, and other groups. The federal government was among the first to utilize the President’s Challenge Web site for an employee health program. In fall 2003, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced the Secretary’s Challenge, an HHS employee physical activity program using the group feature of the President’s Challenge Web site. In fall 2004, HHS and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) launched the HealthierFeds Physical Activity Challenge for federal employees. Over 30,000 federal employees from 30 agencies participated.
The HHS Office on Disability used the PALA as part of its “I Can Do It, You Can Do It” program to provide adult mentors to children with disabilities, in order to encourage the kids to become active. The Council also partnered with the HHS Administration on Aging’s (AoA) “You Can” program to encourage older Americans to take the President’s Challenge.
The Web site was adapted for the Wisconsin Governor’s Challenge program, launched to motivate citizens of Wisconsin to use the President’s Challenge program to become regularly active.
Over 80 corporations, nonprofit organizations, and medical and educational institutions became President’s Challenge Advocates during the Web site’s first three years, utilizing or sponsoring the President’s Challenge program in schools and in the workplace.
“I know you're a better worker if you exercise on a daily basis. I know you'll help keep the health care costs down in America if you exercise on a daily basis. I know your life will be more complete if you exercise.”
President George W. Bush, Remarks at Fitness Challenge,
Fort McNair, June 22, 2003
The PCPFS Science Board and Science Partners. To bring the best available scientific expertise to the Council, the President’s Council Science Board was established in 2003. In addition to appointing individual Science Board members, science partnerships were established with the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the National Athletic Trainers Association.
Revitalizing National Physical Fitness and Sports Month . In 2004, 2005, and 2006, President Bush issued presidential proclamations calling on all Americans to observe National Physical Fitness and Sports Month (“May Month”). Recalling the “Great American Workouts” held in the early 1990s, the Council of President George W. Bush hosted the HealthierUS Fitness Festival on the National Mall in 2004 and 2005, and the HealthierUS Fitness Challenge at RFK Stadium in 2006, which featured the kickoff of the HealthierUS Veterans program.
Lisa Oliphant was executive director from 20012002; Capt. Penelope Royall was acting executive director from 2002-2003; Melissa Johnson has served as executive director since 2003.
FIFTY YEARS OF ACTIVATING AMERICANS
About 1980, the health and physical fitness of Americans began a downward spiral, as the rates of overweight and obesity began to climb. The nation now faces a growing public health epidemic, one that threatens the well-being of future generations. As the nation has become more urbanized, motorized, and screen-centered, an increasing number of people lead sedentary lives, and the rates of overweight and obesity continue to soar. The United States has the highest prevalence of obesity in the world.
The children of the 1950s, whose performance on fitness tests shocked President Eisenhower and caused him to establish the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, as well as the kids who exercised to the “Chicken Fat” song in the 1960s, are now among the two-thirds of American adults who are overweight or obese. Their children and grandchildren are among 9 million overweight American youth, some of whom are developing type 2 diabetes at as young an age as 8. These are the challenges faced by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports as it enters its next 50 years and charts its future.
"We will do all we can to ensure that 50 years from now, when the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports celebrates its Centennial, Americans will look back at this time as a turning point, when the nation began to move away from sedentary living and toward healthy lifestyles and the joy of active living."
John Burke, PCPFS Chairman, 2006 –
For 50 years, the Council has remained constant in adhering to President Eisenhower's original vision – to serve as a stimulator and a catalyst. By activating resources within the public, private, and nonprofit spheres of American life, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports continues to confront a pressing health problem, sedentary behavior, in creative ways that allow for both bipartisanship and continuity.
ON PHYSICAL FITNESS AND SPORTS
MEMBERS AND EXECUTIVES
(1956 - 2006)
Administration: Dwight D. Eisenhower
July 16, 1956: President’s Council on Youth Fitness Established
Richard M. Nixon, Vice President, Chairman (1956-57)
Fred Seaton, Secretary of the Interior, Chairman (1957-58)
Ezra Benson, Secretary of Agriculture
James Mitchell, Secretary of Labor
Herbert Brownell, Jr., Attorney General
Neil McElroy, Secretary of Defense
Marion Folsom, Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare
Arthur Fleming, Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare
Lewis Strauss, Secretary of Commerce
Frederick Mueller, Secretary of Commerce
Albert Cole, House and Home Finance Administration
Shane McCarthy, Director and Administrator
Administration: John F. Kennedy
Council renamed President’s Council on Physical Fitness
Abraham Ribicoff, Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, Chairman (1961-63)
Anthony Celebrezze, Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, Chairman (1963)
Orville Freeman, Secretary of Agriculture
Stuart Udall, Secretary of the Interior
Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense
Arthur Goldburg, Secretary of Labor
W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor
Luther Hodges, Secretary of Commerce
John Conner, Secretary of Commerce
Robert Kennedy, Attorney General
Robert Weaver, House and Home Finance Administration
Charles (Bud) Wilkinson, Consultant to the President on Physical Fitness
Richard (“Dick”) Snider, Council Administrator
Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson
Council renamed President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Anthony Celebrezze, Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, Chairman (1963-67)
Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Chairman (1968) and Consultant to the President
Orville Freeman, Secretary of Agriculture
W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor
John Gardener, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare
Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense
Clark Clifford, Secretary of Defense
Alex Trowbridge, Secretary of Commerce
Cyrus Smith, Secretary of Commerce
Robert Weaver, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Ramsey Clark, Attorney General
Dean Rusk, Secretary of State
Bertrand Harding, Office of Economic Opportunity
Stan Musial, Consultant to the President on Physical Fitness
Capt. James A. Lovell, Consultant to the President on Physical Fitness
Robert Stewart, Council Administrator
John P. Wilbern, Council Administrator
Administration: Richard M. Nixon
Capt. James A. Lovell, Chairman
Samuel Foxx, III
C. Carson (“Casey”) Conrad, Executive Director
Administration: Gerald R. Ford
Capt. James A. Lovell, Chairman
Samuel Fox, III
Elder Marion Hanks
C. Carson (“Casey”) Conrad, Executive Director
Administration: James E. Carter
Gov. Jerry Apodaca, Chairman (1978-80)
Alfred (“Al”) McGuire, Chairman (1980-81)
Mary Joanne Johnson
Dr. James NicholasClaude Terry, Jr.
Alton White, Sr.
C. Carson (“Casey”) Conrad, Executive Director
Administration: Ronald W. Reagan
George Allen, Chairman (1981-87)
Richard Kazmaier, Chairman (1988-89)
Tomas Fatjo, Jr.
James Gilmore, Jr.
C. Carson (“Casey”) Conrad, Executive Director
Asahel (“Ash”) E. Hayes, Executive Director (1984-89)
Administration: George H. W. Bush
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chair
Suzanne Timken, Vice Chair
Thomas Fatjo, Jr.
James Gilmore, Jr.
Corey Ser Vaas
Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Juan “Chi Chi” Rodriguez
Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, Executive Director (1989-91)
John Butterfield, Executive Director (1991-93)
Administration: William J. Clinton
Tom McMillen (1993-98) Co-Chair
Florence Griffith Joyner (1993-98) Co-Chair
Lee Haney, Chair (1999-2002)
Don Casey, Vice Chair (2000-2002)
Deborah Slaner Larkin
Albert Mead, III
Sandra Perlmutter, Executive Director (1993-2001)
Administration: George W. Bush
Lynn Swann, Chair (2002-2005)
John Burke, Chair (2006-)
Dorothy (“Dot”) Richardson, Vice Chair
Katherine Cosgrove Van Horn
Amanda CromwellPamela Danberg
Susan Lieberman Dell
Donna Richardson Joyner
Elisha Nelson Manning
Mary Lou Retton
W. Edgar Weldon
Lisa Oliphant, Executive Director, 2001-2002
Capt. Penelope Slade Royall, Acting Executive Director, 2002-2003
Melissa Johnson, Executive Director, 2003-present