Objective: to explore the effect of organized youth sport on metabolic syndrome (MetS) in adulthood.
Design: Longitudinal study data from the cardiovascular risk in young Finns study.
Subjects: A total of 1493 males (n=704) and females (n=789) aged 3, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 18 years were randomly selected from five university towns and their rural surroundings in 1980. They were followed up for 21 years. In 2001 they were 24, 27, 30, 33, 36 and 39 years old.
Measurements: Youth sports participation data (participation in sport-club training and competitions) were assessed in 1980 and 1983 using a self-report questionnaire completed in connection with a medical examination. Participants were divided into athletes and non-athletes at each measurement point, and then classified into four groups: Persistent athlete, Starter, Leaver and Non-athlete. A mean score of youth sport was assessed by calculating the average of four consecutive measurements (1980-1989). MetS risk in 2001 was defined as a categorical variable based on the guidelines of the European Group for the Study of Insulin Resistance (EGIR) and as a continuous MetS-score variable by summing the z-scores of individual metabolic variables.
Results: In males and females, intense participation in youth sports over 3 years was inversely and significantly associated with clustered MetS score and prevalence of MetS defined by EGIR in adulthood (P<0.05). The association remained significant after adjustment for age, baseline clustered MetS score, smoking and total caloric intake and after additional adjustments for adult leisure-time physical activity. Starters during 3 years were less likely to have MetS than non-athletes. Leavers were at a higher risk for MetS than persistent athletes. These associations were attenuated in males by adjustment for all potential confounders. Similar associations were found using EGIR MetS as an outcome.
Conclusions: Sustained participation in organized sport lasting at least 3 years in youth is associated with reduced risk for developing MetS in adulthood.