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A Journal on Sports Medicine


Official Journal of the Italian Sports Medicine Federation
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Medicina dello Sport 2009 September;62(3):273-84

 MEDICAL AREA

Healthy Growth Chart Project. Part 2. A pilot study on sports and juvenile obesity

Silvestrini B. 1, Arpino M. 1,2, Ferrante M. 1,2, Musicco M. 1,3, Santilli G. 1,2

1 Noopolis Foundation, Rome, Italy
2 Italian Olympic National Committee-CONI, Rome, Italy
3 National Research Council-CNR, Milan, Italy

Aim. This study had the two-fold aim of evaluating the impact of sports in general, and specific sports activities in particular, on child growth in relation to overweight and obesity, as well as to verify the interest in and feasibility of the Healthy Growth Chart, a Noopolis Foundation project for the nation-wide monitoring of the growth and health of schoolchildren.
Methods. The study involved 14 regions of Italy and 4 000 schools, in each of which the study population was 70 students (age range, 8-12 years) on average. The school principals were contacted by letter with an attached questionnaire that sought to investigate, among other items, body weight and height and type of sports the children engaged in. The questionnaire items were worded so that the students could answer them unassisted by their teachers or family. Children were categorized as obese if their body-mass index was ?95% that of age-matched children.
Results. Of the 4 000 school principals contacted, 2 776 responded to the invitation to participate in the study; a total of 1 522 children (8-12 years) completed and returned the questionnaire. Over 20% reported not practicing any type of sport; this value was higher among children residing in the southern regions but lower among the boys than the girls across all regions and age groups. Children who engaged in sports had a mean lower weight, whereas no difference in mean height was found between those who practiced sports and those who did not. Among the boys, the favorite sports were in order of preference soccer, swimming, basketball, cycling, skiing, light athletics, tennis, volleyball, dance, and gymnastics. Among the girls the preferred sports were dance and swimming, followed by those indicated by the boys. The girls made up the majority of the total sample and of the group that practiced no sports. Among the children engaged in at least one type of sports, the lowest mean age was observed among those who practiced swimming and skiing; the highest mean age was noted among those who practiced light athletics. Analysis of standardized body weight rather than absolute weight showed that the lowest values were recorded for the children who practiced soccer, cycling, gymnastics and skiing; the highest values were noted in those who practiced basketball, volleyball and tennis. When height and individual sports were correlated, the highest standardized values were observed among the children who engaged in light athletics, basketball and tennis, and the lowest values among the children who practiced cycling and skiing. On the whole, approximately 12% of the children were found to be obese, with a higher incidence among the boys than the girls and among those residing in the south than the north. Obesity was found to diminish with age, decreasing from 16% of the 9-year-olds to 7% of the 11-year-olds. Among the children who practiced no sports, 18.5% were obese, a proportion far greater than among the obese children who did. Among the latter, the highest proportion practiced swimming and basketball and the lowest proportion skiing.
Conclusion. Besides confirming that engagement in sports reduces the risk of obesity and overweight in children, the study provided a wealth of information, some of which new, about the most common sports schoolchildren practice, correlations with sex, age, body weight and height. The survey was kept simple, without use of validated measurement tools, and based on the children’s self-reported responses. Despite this limitation, and where comparable with published
data, the study data are in line with those from more rigorously controlled studies. While the response rate of the school principals was relatively high, that of the children was only 1.5%. This difference indicates that in order to extend the finalities of the Healthy Growth Chart project the survey will need to be included as a part of annual school registration.

language: English, Italian


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