Purpose: Examine whether cardiometabolic risk factors are predicted by fitness or fatness among adolescents.
Methods: Participants are 4955 (2614 female) sixth-grade students with complete data from 42 US middle schools. Fasting blood samples were analyzed for total cholesterol, HDL- and LDL-cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose, and insulin concentrations. Waist circumference and blood pressure were assessed. Body mass index (BMI) was categorized as normal weight, overweight, or obese as a measure of fatness. Fitness was assessed using the multistage shuttle test and was converted into gender-specific quintiles. Gender-specific regression models, adjusted for race, pubertal status, and household education, were run to identify whether BMI group predicted risk factors. Models were repeated with fitness group and both fitness and fatness groups as predictors.
Results: Means for each risk factor (except HDL, which was the reverse) were significantly higher (P < 0.0001) with increased fatness and differed across all BMI groups (P < 0.001). Waist circumference, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, diastolic blood pressure, and insulin were inversely associated with fitness (P < 0.001). When both fatness and fitness were included in the model, BMI was associated (P < 0.001) with almost all cardiometabolic risk factors; fitness was only associated with waist circumference (both genders), LDL-cholesterol (males), and insulin (both genders). Other associations between fitness and cardiometabolic risk factors were attenuated after adjustment for BMI group.
Conclusions: Both fatness and fitness are associated with cardiometabolic risk factors among sixth-grade youth, but stronger associations were observed for fatness. Although maintaining high levels of fitness and preventing obesity may positively affect cardiometabolic risk factors, greater benefit may be obtained from obesity prevention.