Health-Related Fitness of Deaf Children-How Do They Measure Up?

By Ellis, M. Kathleen; Lieberman, Lauren J. et al. | Palaestra, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Health-Related Fitness of Deaf Children-How Do They Measure Up?


Ellis, M. Kathleen, Lieberman, Lauren J., Fittipauldi-Wert, Jeanine, Dummer, Gail M., Palaestra


Research has established that adequate levels of physical fitness positively contribute to the overall health and well-being of an individual. Individuals who possess appropriate levels of cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and body fat are able to participate in daily living and recreational activities without undue stress or fatigue (Kohl & Hobbs, 1998; Pate, Baranowski, Dowda, & Trost, 1996). In addition, maintenance of appropriate levels of health-related physical fitness is the number one strategy for reducing risk factors for many diseases, especially hypokinetic diseases which are directly associated with sedentary lifestyles (Rowland, 1999; Wilmore & Costill, 1994).

Given the importance placed on physical fitness levels and the connection with risk factors associated with various diseases, it is troublesome that many studies have found deaf children demonstrate lower levels of fitness than hearing children, a comparison group that has been reported to have sub-optimal fitness (Francis, 1999; Goodman & Hopper, 1992). Previous studies investigating fitness of deaf children within the same age range as the present study indicated that not only did the comparison group of hearing children perform higher on all measures of fitness with the exception of flexibility, but deaf children demonstrated higher percent body fat than their hearing peers (Pender & Patterson, 1982; Wiegersman & Van Der Velde, 1983). In the Winnick & Short (1986) study, deaf children aged 10-17 years performed lower on all measures of fitness and also demonstrated significantly higher percent body fat than their hearing peers. When fitness performance was compared to national standard norms, Ellis (2001b) found the majority of deaf children between the ages of 6-16 years demonstrated fitness levels below the 40th percentile. In addition, a number of tests fell below the critical 20th percentile level, especially with percent body fat (M = 20th percentile) and cardiorespiratory endurance (M = 19th percentile), the two most important measures of health-related physical fitness.

But are deaf children really unfit? Previously reported studies have either compared the physical fitness of deaf children to hearing children or used fitness tests that may be questionable for use with deaf children (Goodman & Hopper. 1992: Stewart, Dummer. & Haubenstricker, 1990). For example, of six studies that evaluated physical fitness of deaf children, five compared deaf children to their hearing peers (Boyd, 1967; Bresett, 1971: Brunt & Broadfield, 1972; Pender & Patterson, 1982; Wiegersman & Van Der Velde, 1983; Winnick & Short, 1986), and one used a test that was validated only for use with college-aged individuals (Pender & Patterson, 1982). Only one investigator reported administration procedures to ensure understanding by deaf children (Ellis, 2001b), and only one study compared fitness performance of deaf children to standardized norms (Ellis, 2001b).

In addition to disability, age has also been a significant variable in a variety of studies. In studies by Longmuir and Bar Or (1994, 2000), it was determined both individuals with disabilities and their hearing peers were less active than younger children. The same is true of individuals with visual impairments; as the children became older, physical activity scores decreased (Kozub & Oh, 2004; Oh, Otzurk, & Kozub, 2004).

Comparisons of fitness performances to standardized criteria provide the most effective means for evaluating individual physical fitness levels (Baumgartner & Jackson, 1999: Hastad & Lacy, 2003). One of the most popular test batteries for evaluating physical fitness of children and used consistently in the public schools is the Fitnessgram (Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research, 1999). The Fitnessgram focuses on components of fitness that are most important to overall health and well-being. …

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