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Evidence that fitness of children is in decline & a fit minority are getting fitter

Small boy holding a ball and smiling in Brazil

New research undertaken by academics and published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports has shown evidence that fitness is declining for the majority of young people but not for a fit minority. 

The research paper, Secular trends in the physical fitness of Brazilian youth: Evidence that fitness is declining for the majority but not for a fit minority, has been undertaken by University of Wolverhampton Emeritus Professor Alan Nevill alongside academics, Michael J Duncan, Coventry University, Gaya Adroaldo, PROESP-Br research group, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil and Julio B Mello, eFiDac research Group, Physical Education School, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile. 

Evidence from North America, Europe and Asia has shown that there has been a decline in children's physical fitness in recent decades.  

The current study describes the secular trend and variation (spread) in the physical fitness scores of young Brazilians from 2005 to 2022. 65,39 children and adolescents took part in the study - 36,539 boys and 28,600 girls. 

This study is part of the Projeto Esporte Brasil (PROESP-Br), which is a repeated, cross-sectional surveillance study (1999–2022) designed to assess anthropometry, sports practice, and physical fitness levels of Brazilian children and adolescents through a standardised data collection protocol. Ethics approval for this project was originally obtained from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. 570 research assistants including physical education teachers, sports coaches and strength and conditioning professionals participated in data collection. 

In each cohort six physical fitness tests were conducted including sprint speed, cardio-respiratory, abdominal strength sit-ups, horizontal jump tests, agility tests and a medicine ball test. 

Professor Nevill said: “Physical fitness consists of multiple components that collectively reflect an individual's ability to perform physical activity. The measurement of physical fitness on a large scale among children and adolescents is one of the priorities of research around the world and higher levels of physical fitness during childhood and adolescence is associated with more positive health outcomes. Consequently, improving children's physical fitness continues to be a public health priority. However, there remain concerns that children are not as fit as they previously were, with physical fitness in decline in more recent years. 

“Results provide powerful evidence that children and adolescents' physical fitness is declining, a trend that is also diverging asymmetrically, becoming more extreme in more recent years. The “fit” appear to be getting fitter, but the fitness of the “less-fit” appears to be declining further. These results have important implications for sports medicine and government policy makers.” 

Collectively, the results indicate that from 2005 to 2022 there was a decline in the physical fitness of Brazilian children and adolescents. BMI increased over time but did not significantly influence trends in physical fitness variables. However, a more detailed approach revealed a systematic increase in standard deviations over time/years, especially in older children or adolescents, indicating a trend towards polarization of the results. This means that despite the decreasing average, there is a tendency for a select group of children and adolescents to be increasingly fit over time, as well as another group (probably very sedentary) to be less and less-fit over time. 

Find out more about the University's research in the University’s eZene, Research Matters - showcasing our research successes and news from the sector. 

Find out more about degree courses in the Faculty of Education, Health and Wellbeing and visit one of our forthcoming Open Days.   



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