Adolescents from southern Europe are less fit and more obese than their central-northern European peers

July 9, 2014

Adolescents in southern Europe are less fit in terms of cardiorespiratory capacity, strength and speed-agility than their central-northern European peers. Moreover, southern adolescents are more obese and present higher levels of total and abdominal fat than those from the centre-north of Europe.

These are some of the remarkable results from an ambitious study conducted by scientists from the University of Granada Department of Medical Physiology in collaboration with 25 other European research groups. The study compared the level of of living in Mediterranean countries (Spain, Italy and Greece) with adolescents from the centre and north of Europe. The results have been published in the latest issue of the prestigious Pediatrics journal—the most important in its field worldwide.

The principal author of this research is Francisco B. Ortega, currently a Ramón y Cajal researcher in the Department of Physical and Sports Education at the University of Granada. Ortega underlines the fact that "an adolescent's level of fitness has been shown to be an important indicator of their present and future state of health, hence the relevance of differences found between southern and central-northern Europe".

The study, coordinated by the University of Granada, included a total of 3528 adolescents from southern Europe (four cities in Spain, Italy and Greece) and central-northern Europe (six cities). All of them underwent a series of tests to measure their physical fitness, total and abdominal fat, and cardioembolic risk.

Adolescents from 9 countries

The methodology used in these 10 European cities, from nine different countries, was meticulously standardized. The researchers applied objective methods. For example, to assess , they used devices called accelerometers, which the adolescents wore around their waists for seven consecutive days. The accelerometers enabled the scientists to obtain data about the length of time they spent on physical activities of different degrees of intensity, or sedentary activities like watching TV.

Ortega explains another major finding of this study: southern European adolescents participate less in physical activity and more in than those from northern Europe which, to a large extent, explains their lower level of fitness. "These results indicate the importance on a population-wide level of participating in physical activity in order to have a healthy level of fitness".

The study has also demonstrated that the prevalence of obesity and levels of total and are greater in southern European adolescents. "However, we didn't find that this was due to doing less physical activity, or to diet, or to the genetic markers that we studied, so we can't draw conclusions about why obesity is more prevalent", says the University of Granada researcher.

The study published in Pediatrics also analysed cardiovascular risk markers like cholesterol or blood pressure but found no consistent differences between southern and central-northern European adolescents.

Explore further: Iron, vitamins could affect physical fitness in adolescents

More information: "Health Inequalities in Urban Adolescents: Role of Physical Activity, Diet, and Genetics." Francisco B. Ortega, Jonatan R. Ruiz, Idoia Labayen, David Martínez-Gómez, Germán Vicente-Rodriguez, Magdalena Cuenca-García, Luis Gracia-Marco, Yannis Manios, Laurent Beghin, Dénes Molnar, Angela Polito, Kurt Widhalm, Ascensión Marcos, Marcela González-Gross, Anthony Kafatos, Christina Breidenassel, Luis A. Moreno, Michael Sjöström and Manuel J. Castillo. Pediatrics; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-1665

Related Stories

Iron, vitamins could affect physical fitness in adolescents

August 8, 2012

Adolescence is an important time not only for growing but for acquiring healthy habits that will last a lifetime, such as choosing foods rich in vitamins and minerals, and adopting a regular exercise regimen. Unfortunately, ...

Lower fat content and exercise for the diet of adolescents

January 8, 2014

The prevalence of excess weight and obesity among adolescents and, as a result, the concomitant problems, has increased considerably in recent years. A study by the UPV/EHU has confirmed that, irrespective of the total calories ...

Improving academic performance with physical fitness

June 19, 2014

Physical fitness in childhood and adolescence is beneficial for both physical and mental health throughout life. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that it may also play a key role in brain health and academic performance. ...

Recommended for you

Youth dance classes score low in physical activity

May 18, 2015

For parents who send their kids to dance classes to get some exercise, a new study from researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine suggests most youth dance classes provide only limited amounts ...

Roller coaster rides trigger pediatric stroke

December 11, 2014

Riding a couple roller coasters at an amusement park appears to have triggered an unusual stroke in a 4-year-old boy, according to a report in the journal Pediatric Neurology.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.