Background: Declining levels of physical activity in the population at large may be responsible in part for the rising rates of childhood obesity. Studies to date, however, have not consistently demonstrated such a protective effect. We used longitudinal data from the Framingham Children's Study (FCS) to address this important question.
Methods: We used 8 years of activity monitoring (Caltrac electronic motion sensors) and repeated anthropometry measures for 103 children to examine the effect of activity on body fat change from preschool to early adolescence. Longitudinal data analysis methods were employed to account for the use of repeated measures on these children.
Results: Children in the highest tertile of average daily activity from ages 4 to 11 years had consistently smaller gains in BMI, triceps, and sum of five skinfolds throughout childhood. By early adolescence (age 11), the sum of five skinfolds was 95.1, 94.5, and 74.1 for the low, middle, and high tertiles of activity, respectively (P for trend = 0.045). This protective effect of activity was evident for both girls and boys.
Conclusion: This longitudinal study adds strong support for the hypothesis that higher levels of physical activity during childhood lead to the acquisition of less body fat by the time of early adolescence.