The influence of physical fitness on cardio-metabolic risk factors in European children: the IDEFICS study

Mahmoud Zaquot, part of the team at UGENT in Belgium (an I.Family partner), has recently released a paper detailing a study into physical fitness and metabolic risk factors in children, using data from IDEFICS, the I.Family precursor study. The paper has been published by the International Journal of Obesity and accepted for publication by the International Journal of Public Health.

The study involved over 1600 European children, aged between six and 11, over a two-year period. It investigated the link between physical fitness and metabolic risk, or the likelihood that children will go on to develop illnesses like heart disease or type-2 diabetes.

Children’s physical fitness was measured in a variety of ways: cardio-respiratory fitness, muscular strength of upper and lower body and speed and agility tests. Metabolic risk was measured through waist circumference, blood pressure and lipid and glucose levels in the blood after fasting.

“We found that the only significant predictor for metabolic risk as a whole was cardio-respiratory fitness,” explains Mahmoud. “Waist circumference, blood lipids and insulin resistance were all significantly predicted by the child’s level of physical fitness.”

Higher clustered metabolic risk was associated with lower physical fitness, whereas with upper limb strength, the opposite association was found. No differences were found between genders in terms of metabolic risk.

“This research is valuable for the ongoing question of how to tackle metabolic risk, for children’s health and wellbeing as they grow up. We can now suggest, for example, that improving cardio-respiratory fitness and lower-limb muscle strength could modify the development of cardio-metabolic risk factors,” Mahmoud says. “This can be vital information to pass along to families with children who may be at risk of developing metabolic diseases in the future.”

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