Study: Physical fitness better indicator of health than BMI in children

Report Says Children Around the World Aren't Active Enough

When it comes to health, physical fitness may be more of an indicator than BMI for children.

A study from the University of Georgia provides new guidelines for physical activity for kids. According to researchers, the goal of physical education should be to help build a students' cardiorespiratory endurance, which measures how well the body handles long periods of exercise, as opposed to focusing on weight loss.

Even if a child is overweight, they may still be able to reach the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity which could be a better measure of health than weight or BMI, according to the study.

“Research has shown that even in young children, people who are fitter in terms of cardiorespiratory endurance participate in more intense physical activities,” said the study’s lead author Sami Yli-Piipari, an associate professor in UGA’s Mary Frances Early College of Education. “It’s not really your weight that matters. Children can be a little bit overweight but still be relatively fit.”

The study took place in Finland and followed 450 children, ranging in ages 10-12, who engaged in mandatory physical education for about 90 minutes per week.

To track their total activity for the week, the children wore an accelerometer on their right hip. The study revealed that boys tended to be more active than girls. However, muscle strength and motor skills didn’t play a role in activity levels. Motivation for physical activity was also monitored but also did not play a role in activity levels.

“Physical education matters,” Yli-Piipari said. “It’s not only where students learn the skills, abilities and motivation to be active; it’s where students are having to do something active at a higher intensity than they probably would after school.”