BACKGROUND: Physical fitness is a powerful health marker in childhood and adolescence, and it is reasonable to think that it might be just as important in younger children, i.e. preschoolers. At the moment, researchers, clinicians and sport practitioners do not have enough information about which fitness tests are more reliable, valid and informative from the health point of view to be implemented in preschool children. OBJECTIVE: Our aim was to systematically review the studies conducted in preschool children using field-based fitness tests, and examine their (1) reliability, (2) validity, and (3) relationship with health outcomes. Our ultimate goal was to propose a field-based physical fitness-test battery to be used in preschool children. DATA SOURCES: PubMed and Web of Science. STUDY ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA: Studies conducted in healthy preschool children that included field-based fitness tests. STUDY APPRAISAL AND SYNTHESIS METHODS: When using PubMed, we included Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) terms to enhance the power of the search. A set of fitness-related terms were combined with 'child, preschool' [MeSH]. The same strategy and terms were used for Web of Science (except for the MeSH option). Since no previous reviews with a similar aim were identified, we searched for all articles published up to 1 April 2014 (no starting date). A total of 2,109 articles were identified, of which 22 articles were finally selected for this review. RESULTS: Most studies focused on reliability of the fitness tests (n = 21, 96%), while very few focused on validity (0 criterion-related validity and 4 (18%) convergent validity) or relationship with health outcomes (0 longitudinal and 1 (5%) cross-sectional study). Motor fitness, particularly balance, was the most studied fitness component, while cardiorespiratory fitness was the least studied. After analyzing the information retrieved in the current systematic review about fitness testing in preschool children, we propose the PREFIT battery, field-based FITness testing in PREschool children. The PREFIT battery is composed of the following tests: the 20 m shuttle-run test for assessing cardiorespiratory fitness, the handgrip-strength and the standing long-jump tests for assessing musculoskeletal fitness, and the 4 × 10 m shuttle run and the one-leg-stance tests for assessing motor fitness, i.e. speed/agility and balance, respectively. The rationale for the selection of each of the tests included in the PREFIT battery is provided in this review, as well as directions for future research. LIMITATIONS: Levels of evidence based on quality assessment of selected studies could not be constructed due to the limited number of studies identified for each test. CONCLUSIONS: The present systematic review has identified a need for further research on the validity of fitness tests in preschool children, as well as on their relationship with health. Due to this limited information, the PREFIT battery hereby proposed is based on the output of the current systematic review in preschool children, together with existing evidence in older children and adolescents. While we wait for more evidence to be accumulated in preschool children, the PREFIT battery hereby proposed is a useful tool for assessing physical fitness in children aged 3-5 years.
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