It is widely believed that the performance of children and adolescents on aerobic fitness tests is declining. To test this hypothesis, this meta-analysis compared the results of 55 reports of the performance of children and adolescents aged 6-19 years who have used the 20m shuttle run test (20mSRT). All data were collected in the period 1981-2000. Following corrections for methodological variation, the results of all studies were expressed using the common metric of running speed (km/h) at the last completed stage. Raw data were combined with pseudodata generated from reported means and standard deviations using Monte Carlo simulation. Where data were available on children and adolescents from the same country of the same age and sex, but tested at different times, linear regression was used to calculate rates of change. This was possible for 11 (mainly developed) countries, representing a total of 129,882 children and adolescents in 151 age x sex x country slices. There has been a significant decline in performance in the 11 countries where data were available, and in most age x sex groups, with a sample-weighted mean decline of 0.43% of mean values per year. The decline was most marked in older age groups and the rate of decline was similar for boys and girls. There has been a very rapid secular decline in the 20mSRT performance of children and adolescents over the last 20 years, at least in developed countries. The rate of decline is not related to the change in the country's relative wealth, as quantified by per capita gross domestic product (GDP).