Study points to worrying fitness levels in some young teens

Body composition by IOTF BMI categories, sex and age. Figure 1b shows the distribution of body composition as total FM / FFM (excluding bone mineral mass) across ages for each sex within the IOTF BMI categories. For boys, FM at each IOTF BMI category was lower than for girls. FM across the IOTF BMI categories in girls was relatively stable across ages, with the thinnest girls having 6.2-7.1% FM aged 12 and 14 years, respectively, which contrasted with 36.7 and 39 , 4% among 12- and 14-year-old girls in overweight category. Credit: Nutrients (2022). DOI: 10.3390 / nu14071369

A worrying proportion of young teens may have poor cardiorespiratory fitness, which can hamper their activity levels, a study suggests.

Research involving nearly 20,000 Polish adolescents between the ages of 12 and 14, published in the journal Nutrients, has revealed insights into their levels of obesity and fitness, and some of the lifestyle factors involved.

Researchers from Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London, Medicover Foundation, Medical University of Gdansk and Warsaw Medical University in Poland and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden say that their results may also be important for other European countries, such as the UK where the overall obesity level is even higher than in Poland.

Lead researcher Professor Alina Rodriguez, from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “Although there is a lot of work going on trying to measure levels of obesity in children and adults, we do not have much clear information about what is happening to young people. This is a crucial time in children’s development as they begin to go through puberty and develop eating and activity habits that can continue for the rest of their lives. ”

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The study was conducted with the help of a team of nurses who visited schools around Poland to record students’ height, weight, hip and waist measurements and fat percentage in their bodies, and to perform fitness tests using heart rate monitors. They asked parents about their children’s diet and activity level, and they took blood samples from some of the young people to test for markers of good or bad nutrition.

Overall, they found that 38.6% of adolescents had cardiorespiratory condition, which was categorized as poor or very poor. Among girls, they found that 18.6% were overweight or obese. In boys, 24.7% were overweight or obese. However, girls carried between 10% and 14% more fat than boys with the same body mass index (or BMI, a measure that combines height and weight). While girls were less likely to play sports than boys, boys ate more fast food and drank more sugary drinks.

Blood tests showed higher than expected levels of uric acid – a potential marker of prediabetes – in obese adolescents. In girls who were overweight, the researchers found lower-than-expected levels of iron, suggesting they could be malnourished.

Professor Rodriguez said: “Countries in Eastern and Central Europe, such as Poland, are undergoing a process of ‘supermarket management’, where the diet has changed from home-cooked food to ready-made food, and this is associated with conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

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“Our study shows that the number of young people who are overweight or obese is significant and increasing. We also found poor fitness levels in just over a third of teenagers. This indicates that they may not be able to participate in physical activity. now and in the future, and this may exacerbate the problem.Among girls who were classified as overweight, we found evidence of risk of anemia, suggesting that the food they eat does not meet their nutritional needs.And higher body fat in girls is not only driven by hormonal differences but also by lifestyle. “

The research suggested that BMI generally correlated with other measures of health, fitness and body fat and is therefore a good indication of whether young people need additional support to improve their health. Professor Rodriguez said: “There is some debate about whether BMI is a reliable measure of obesity in this age group, so our results may help physicians and parents who do not always have access to tools to measure body fat.”

She added: “The early adolescence growth spurt is one of the fastest development periods, so this pattern of increasing BMI can have lasting health and developmental consequences. It is crucial that we monitor patterns of nutrition, fitness and body weight in young adolescents, so we can understand all the problems and see what factors can help them grow up to live a long and healthy life. ”

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More information: Alina Rodriguez et al., Fitness, Food, and Biomarkers: Characterizing Body Composition in 19,634 Early Adolescents, Nutrients (2022). DOI: 10.3390 / nu14071369

Provided by Imperial College London

Quote: Study points to worrying fitness levels in some young teens (2022, April 4) Retrieved April 5, 2022 from

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