Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess anthropometry, physical fitness, and serum glucose and lipid levels in college students and to determine the relative impact of fitness level compared with body composition on blood chemistries related to metabolic syndrome.
Methods: College students (n = 564; means ± SD: age = 19.4 ± 1.1 yr) participating in the Tufts University Longitudinal Health Study between 2000 and 2007 were examined for the relative impact of fitness level compared with body composition on serum glucose, triglycerides, HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol controlling for age and ethnicity.
Results: In this college population, 16.2% were overweight or obese, whereas 60% had body fat percentages above desirable levels. Higher percent body fat was associated with increased cholesterol and LDL in both men and women, and with increased triglyceride and decreased HDL in women (P < 0.05). Increased fitness was associated with increased HDL and decreased triglycerides in women and decreased serum glucose in men (P < 0.05). When dichotomized into "fit" and "unfit" groups, students who were fit demonstrated more optimal levels of serum glucose and lipids independent of percent body fat (P < 0.05).
Conclusions: Several metabolic risk factors are already evident in a young college population, and both increased body fatness and decreased physical fitness were associated with metabolic risk. Being physically fit can confer an added benefit to a healthy body composition. It is therefore important to encourage both healthy weights and fitness in late adolescence as each play important and independent roles in biochemical parameters associated with increased chronic disease risk.