Adolescent Obesity and Low Fitness Levels Tied to Adulthood Disability

Young patients with low levels of physical fitness, obesity, and a combination of the two have an increased risk for disability when they reach adulthood, according to recent research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Participants were 1,079,128 Swedish males aged 16–19 years who were conscripted into the military between 1972 and 1994. Cardiorespiratory fitness and body mass index (BMI) were both measured at conscription, and this data were later correlated with disability pension information obtained via the Social Insurance Agency.

Mean follow-up time was 28.3 years, during which time 54,304 men received a disability pension. Men with low cardiorespiratory fitness were significantly more likely to receive a disability pension due to all causes (hazard ratio, 3.74 [95% CI, 3.55 to 3.95] for lowest vs. highest fitness decile) as well as specific causes (psychiatric, musculoskeletal, injuries, nervous system, circulatory, and tumors). Obese adolescents were also significantly more likely to require disability pension due to all and specific causes. Class II and III obesity patients had the greatest risk. Across BMI categories, disability pension risk decreased among moderately and highly fit patients compared to unfit patients—suggesting that even patients with a higher BMI can reduce their disability risk with physical fitness.

One of the study’s limitations was that women were not included. Researchers also only had data on smoking and alcohol intake in a subsample, and they did not have repeated measures of exposures and covariates.

“Although additional well-designed studies are required, these findings support the importance of high cardiorespiratory fitness and healthy body weight during adolescence to prevent later chronic disease,” the researchers observed.

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Source: Annals of Internal Medicine