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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 02:37 GMT
Girls 'fitter than tests show'
netball Previous fitness tests did not take changes in body size into account

Female teenagers are fitter than was previously thought, as they way they were previously assessed is misleading, experts have said.

Changes in body size during growth have not been taken into account when working out how fit girls are, say the team of experts at the Children's Health and Exercise Research Centre in Exeter.

But a study of 1,000 children confirms that worrying numbers of teenagers are doing little or no exercise - half of girls and a third of boys do not even do the equivalent of a 10 minute brisk walk once a week.

Since the 1950s, fitness has traditionally been calculated by oxygen consumption during exercise and expressed in relation to body mass. But this has failed to take into account the natural increase in body fat in girls between the ages of eight and 18, say Professor Neil Armstrong and his team.

Children have not been alive long enough for low levels of activity to be reflected in low levels of fitness
Professor Neil Armstrong
They point out in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that body fat in girls increases from 18% before puberty to 25% after adolescence and muscle growth increases over the same period, as does the amount of haemoglobin in the body. This potential for improved oxygen delivery has been overlooked, they claim.

Fitness improves

Professor Armstrong said: "The previous measurement obscured the view. If you appropriately take out body mass changes, fitness actually improves. There is an independent effect of maturation, which has been clouded.

"Children have not been alive long enough for low levels of activity to be reflected in low levels of fitness."

But he said the results of a study of the exercise patterns of young people indicated potential health problems.

"We are showing that children are nowhere near as active as they should be. Activity, particularly in girls, is falling dramatically during the teenage years."

They could face "major health problems" during their adult lives as a result, including heart disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis, he said.

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See also:
20 Jan 99 |  Health
Fitness fanatics and couch potatoes
26 Oct 99 |  Health
Exercise 'cuts cancer risk'

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