Childhood Physical Fitness May Be Linked With Less Obesity, Hypertension in Early Adulthood

Laurie Barclay, MD

January 06, 2009

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January 6, 2009 — In the Oslo Youth Study, childhood physical fitness has some inverse associations with obesity and blood pressure in early adulthood but much less so in middle age, according to the results of a study reported in the January issue of Pediatrics.

"Few studies have examined the association of childhood physical activity and physical fitness with cardiovascular disease risk factors in adulthood," write Elisabeth Kvaavik, PhD, from the University of Oslo in Oslo, Norway, and colleagues. "Furthermore, interpretation of these findings is hampered by methodologic shortcomings. In a population-based cohort study, we explored the influence, if any, of childhood physical activity and physical fitness on later cardiovascular disease risk factors."

The Oslo Youth Study is a prospective cohort study that began in 1979, when 1016 students from 6 schools were invited to participate in a health education intervention. Mean age at study enrollment was 13 years (range, 11 - 15 years). The investigators obtained data regarding cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors at baseline and in 1981 (mean age, 15 years; range, 13 - 17 years), 1991 (mean age, 25 years; range, 23 - 27 years), 1999 (mean age, 33 years; range, 31 - 35 years), and 2006 (mean age, 40 years; range, 38 - 42 years).

Physical fitness at baseline was inversely related to body mass index (BMI), triceps skinfold thickness, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure (N = 716). Prospective analyses showed that these associations persisted at ages 15 years (N = 472), 25 years (N = 280, except for systolic blood pressure), and 33 years (N = 410, only BMI measured). However, the strength of these associations progressively decreased and disappeared altogether at age 40 years (N = 294).

Physical activity showed fewer relationships with CVD risk factors vs physical fitness. The observed associations were not significantly affected by controlling for educational level of both the parent and the study member.

Limitations of this study include marked attrition at each follow-up; and a large number of statistical tests possibly causing some of the few positive results to have occurred by chance.

"Although childhood physical fitness seems to reveal some inverse associations with obesity and blood pressure in early adulthood, these effects diminished markedly into middle age," the study authors write. "Additional work to examine the long-term stability of fitness from childhood to adult life and its association with adult CVD risk factors is warranted."

The Oslo Youth Study was initially supported by the Norwegian Cancer Society and subsequently by the Norwegian Research Council, the EXTRA funds from the Norwegian Foundation for Health and Rehabilitation, and from the Norwegian Health Association. Dr. Kvaavik is currently funded by a grant from the Norwegian Research Council, and another author is a UK Wellcome Trust Fellow. The other study authors have disclosed no financial relationships.

Pediatrics. 2009;123:e80-e86.


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