The Virginia Tech Fit Family Program
Metzler, Michael W., Southard, Barbara H., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
The fit Family Program was designed to promote long-term behavior change through educational, prescriptive, supportive, and maintenance components.
The professional literature is filled with articles lamenting the poor state of health-related fitness in the general population, and of children in particular (Ross & Gilbert, 1985; Ross & Pate, 1987). The familiar claim that "our kids are not fit" is widely supported in research and clinical observation (Kuntzleman & Reiff, 1992). The scientific community has recently focused on two important questions: How do we define and measure health-related fitness (Gutin, Manos, & Strong, 1992; Safrit & Looney, 1992) and how fit are American children? (Blair, 1992; Corbin & Pangrazi, 1992). A third, even more important question still remains: What can we do to help children be more fit (however defined and measured) for their lives today and later as adults?
How the Fit Family Program Began
Many people have expressed differing opinions about how to address the "fitness crisis" in American youth. Some advocate that our schools become the focal point, with solutions ranging from simply allowing more time for fitness activity in daily lessons (Lacy, 1987; Petray et al., 1989), to changing over from physical education to fitness education (McSwegin et al, 1988). It is clear that just devoting a few more minutes in each lesson for activities that elevate the heart rate, provide a few more strength-building repetitions, and introduce nominal stretching routines is not the answer. Many programs already do this. But there is no good solution at the other extreme. If K-12 programs were converted entirely to a fitness model, two outcomes would likely occur. First, most children and youth would get "turned off" by a program that had only a single focus. If children won't engage in fitness enhancing activity voluntarily, mandating such activity is risky business. Second, even if reasonable levels of interest could be reached, the fitness education programs would probably fail anyway, particularly in the elementary schools. If the accepted standard for maintaining just one aspect of health-related fitness, cardiovascular, is "20 minutes at the target rate, 3 times a week," then children who have physical education only twice for 30 minutes are doomed to fail before they begin their "PE week" (Metzler, 1990).
The problem is much larger than poor scores on fitness tests. Those scores indicate unhealthy lifestyles, not just poor flexibility, a weak upper body, and cardiovascular inefficiency. Children can be trained in physical education classes to perform better on fitness tests (Vogel, 1986), but that is not the same as leading healthier lifestyles. We did not want a short-term training program. Rather, the Fit Family Program was designed to promote long-term behavior change through educational, prescriptive, supportive, and maintenance components.
We framed the problem as one of unacceptable lifestyle patterns, only a small portion of which is influenced (and changeable) by in-school physical education programs. For us, the answer (or the blame) was not to be found in schools. We looked elsewhere, eventually settling on children's home environments as the potentially strongest negative contributor to unhealthy lifestyles, and the best place to start making positive changes. But, home is more than a house; it is where children share many litestyle behaviors with parents/guardians and siblings. Regardless of the configuration of the family, unit, it is an undeniable influence on lifestyle, determining patterns for many types of behavior, including eating and physical activity. Therefore, we expanded the focus of the program from children to the entire household - giving us the name and theme for the Fit Family Program (FFP). The FFP is not restricted to the "typical" family unit of both parents living with one or more children. …