Aerobic fitness does not protect children from metabolic syndrome 

Aerobic fitness does not protect children from metabolic syndrome
©iStock/Drazen Zigic

Researchers from the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Eastern Finland have found that high aerobic fitness in children does not protect them from metabolic syndrome.  

The study revealed several more interesting findings. The researchers also found that focusing on the amount of fat tissue in an individual’s body has distorted previous studies on the protective benefits of aerobic fitness.. 

In addition to this, the team also observed that poor aerobic fitness did not lead to the condition in adults. The study specifically examined how considerations of body size and composition affected the association between aerobic fitness and metabolic syndrome.  

The results have been published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport. 

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome refers to the accumulation of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic hazards in an individual. The condition is characterised by high body fat, elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance, increased triglycerides, and lowered high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL). 

The researcher’s findings have shown that low aerobic fitness is not a risk factor for metabolic syndrome in children. Previous research into the condition has found results by dividing body fat measurements by levels of aerobic fitness. Results from this methodology suggested that highly fit children were at a lower risk of metabolic syndrome. However, the protective effects of high fitness levels seemed largely due to low levels of fat mass, rather than aerobic fitness.  

“Our results show that being overweight or obese increases the risk of metabolic syndrome regardless of the level of aerobic fitness. Instead of focusing on aerobic fitness, preventing the condition should start with increasing physical activity, improving diet quality, and controlling weight,” said Eero Haapala, PhD from the Faculty of Sport Science, the University of Jyväskylä.  

Measuring aerobic fitness

The researchers also found that when they adequately considered body compositions in adults, the importance of low aerobic fitness as a risk factor was greatly reduced.  

In adults, body composition was assessed by measuring skin folds. If body composition had been measured through a bone density scan (DXA), as is typical, the significance of aerobic fitness may have diminished further. 

Although only a weak association between aerobic fitness and metabolic syndrome was evident, better aerobic fitness was associated with higher levels of HDL cholesterol.

The researchers examined data from 352 children aged nine to 11 years from the PANIC study and 572 men aged 53 to 72 from the KIHD study. Maximum oxygen uptake was used as the barometer for endurance fitness, this was measured using a maximal bicycle ergometer test. Metabolic syndrome was determined according to international standards. Additionally, body composition in children was measured using both in-body and DXA devices. Skin fold thickness was also measured in adults.  

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