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Physical activity prevents clustering of CVD risk factors in young children

Comment by Trine Karlsen, EACPR Exercise, Basic and Translational Research Section

Physical activity and clustered cardiovascular disease risk factors in young children: a cross-sectional study (The IDEFICS study)
Jiménez-Pavón D, Konstabel K et al.
BMC Medicine 2013; 11: 172. DOI: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-172


The amount and intensity of daily physical activity required to achieve health benefits in young children are debated. In the paper from Jiménez-Pavón and colleagues, the association between physical activity and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk clustering was investigated in a cross sectional study of around 3000 children between 2-9 years of age from 8 European countries.

Physical activity was objectively measured by accelerometers and associated with a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors including systolic blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, HOMA-IR (Homeostasis Model of Assessment - Insulin Resistance) and fat mass.

The study reports no consistent association between the daily physical activity and cardiovascular risk clustering in the younger age group (2-6 years), despite vigorous physical activity being associated with the cardiovascular risk score.

In the oldest children (6-9 years) an inverse association between the level of total, moderate and vigorous daily physical activity and cardiovascular risk factor clustering was found. The lowers quintile of physical activity (mean of 15 and 20 min/day of physical activity in girls and boys respectively) had significant higher odds of cardiovascular risk clustering compared to the highest quintile of physical activity (mean of 66 and 84 min/day of physical activity in girls and boys respectively).

The study concludes that physical activity prevents clustering of cardiovascular risk factors in children between 6-9 years old, and that the current recommendation of 60 minutes of daily exercise should be increased to a total of 85 min/day, with 20 minutes at vigorous intensity in boys (6-9 years). In girls (6-9 years), 60 min/day of physical activity could be sufficient, however 20 minutes should be performed at vigorous intensity.

The study enhances knowledge of the association between volume and intensity of physical activity and clustering of risk factors in two age groups of young children, and may improve current guidelines and give direction to further studies.

Information about diet, previous physical activity, structured physical activity in schools or kinder gardens, and the age when children start school and kinder garden would have added interesting information to the paper.