Recommended levels of physical activity to avoid an excess of body fat in European adolescents: the HELENA Study

Am J Prev Med. 2010 Sep;39(3):203-11. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2010.05.003.


Background: It is unclear how much physical activity is necessary to prevent obesity during adolescence.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine whether the current physical activity guidelines for youth are associated with a lower risk of excess of body fat in European adolescents.

Methods: A sample of 2094 adolescents from the HELENA cross-sectional study was selected. Levels of moderate, vigorous, and moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) were assessed using accelerometers. BMI and percentage of body fat (skinfolds) were calculated and used to categorize the adolescents as normal-weight/normal-fat, overweight/overfat, and obese. Data were collected during 2006-2007. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis, performed in 2009, was used to determine thresholds that best discriminate between weight and body fat categories.

Results: ROC analysis showed that >/=18 minutes/day in vigorous physical activity and >/=55 minutes/day in MVPA significantly discriminated between normal-weight and overweight+obesity categories. Moreover, >/=9 minutes/day of vigorous physical activity and >/=49 minutes/day of MVPA discriminated between normal-fat and overfat/obese adolescents. Adolescents who did not meet the current physical activity guidelines for youth of 60 minutes/day in MVPA increased the risk of having overweight+obesity (OR=1.24, 95% CI=1.01, 1.534) and overfat+obesity (OR=1.79, 95% CI=1.33, 2.42). ORs increased when adolescents did not meet the guidelines of at least 15 minutes/day in vigorous physical activity.

Conclusions: Current physical activity guidelines seem to be appropriate to prevent excess of body fat in European adolescents. However, participation in vigorous physical activity might have additional importance in preventing obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Europe
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Overweight / prevention & control
  • ROC Curve