Aims/hypothesis: High levels of cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and physical activity (PA) are associated with a favourable metabolic risk profile. However, there has been no thorough exploration of the independent contributions of cardiorespiratory fitness and subcomponents of activity (total PA, time spent sedentary, and time spent in light, moderate and vigorous intensity PA) to metabolic risk factors in children and the relative importance of these factors.
Methods: We performed a population-based, cross-sectional study in 9- to 10- and 15- to 16-year-old boys and girls from three regions of Europe (n = 1709). We examined the independent associations of subcomponents of PA and CRF with metabolic risk factors (waist circumference, BP, fasting glucose, insulin, triacylglycerol and HDL-cholesterol levels). Clustered metabolic risk was expressed as a continuously distributed score calculated as the average of the standardised values of the six subcomponents.
Results: CRF (standardised beta = -0.09, 95% CI -0.12, -0.06), total PA (standardised beta = -0.08, 95% CI -0.10, -0.05) and all other subcomponents of PA were significantly associated with clustered metabolic risk. After excluding waist circumference from the summary score and further adjustment for waist circumference as a confounding factor, the magnitude of the association between CRF and clustered metabolic risk was attenuated (standardised beta = -0.05, 95% CI -0.08, -0.02), whereas the association with total PA was unchanged (standardised beta = -0.08 95% CI -0.10, -0.05).
Conclusions/interpretation: PA and CRF are separately and independently associated with individual and clustered metabolic risk factors in children. The association between CRF and clustered risk is partly mediated or confounded by adiposity, whereas the association between activity and clustered risk is independent of adiposity. Our results suggest that fitness and activity affect metabolic risk through different pathways.