Background: Although cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) in childhood and adolescence may be linked to future cardiovascular health, there is currently limited evidence for a longitudinal association.
Objectives: To provide a systematic review on the prospective association between CRF in childhood and adolescence and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors at least 2 years later.
Methods: Using a systematic search of Medline, Embase, and SPORTDiscus, relevant articles were identified by the following criteria: generally healthy children and adolescents between 3 and 18 years of age with CRF assessed at baseline, and a follow-up period of ≥ 2 years. The outcome measures were CVD risk factors. We appraised quality of the included articles with STROBE and QUIPS checklists.
Results: After screening 7524 titles and abstracts, we included 38 articles, assessing 44,169 children and adolescents followed up for a median of 6 years. Eleven articles were of high quality. There was considerable heterogeneity in methodology, measurement of CRF, and outcomes, which hampered meta-analysis. In approximately half of the included articles higher CRF in childhood and adolescence was associated with lower body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, body fatness and lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome in later life. No associations between CRF in childhood and adolescence and future waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, lipid profile, and glucose homeostasis were observed.
Conclusion: Although about half of the included articles reported inverse associations between CRF in childhood and adolescence and future BMI, body fatness, and metabolic syndrome, evidence for other CVD risk factors was unconvincing. Many articles did not account for important confounding factors such as adiposity. Recommendations for future research include standardizing the measurement of CRF, i.e. by reporting VO2max, using standardized outcome assessments, and performing individual patient data meta-analyses.