Physical fitness and nutritional anthropometric status of children from disadvantaged communities in the Nelson Mandela Bay region


Background: Information about the relationships between physical fitness, body composition and nutrition has increased in recent years; however, little is known about physical fitness and the coexistence of under-/overnutrition among children living in disadvantaged areas.

Objectives: To determine the physical fitness status and its association with body composition, growth and selected socio- demographics in primary schoolchildren from disadvantaged communities in the Nelson Mandela Bay region.

Methods: Nine hundred and sixty-five children (49% girls, M=9.5 years) participated in this cross-sectional study. Height and weight were measured to establish body mass index, and height-for-age z-scores. Physical fitness was assessed using tests from the Eurofit Physical Fitness test battery (flexibility, upper/lower body muscular strength and cardiorespiratory fitness). Between- group differences and cross-sectional associations were examined with univariate (Chi2-tests, analyses of variance) and multivariate methods (mixed linear/logistic regression).

Results: Most children had normal weight (76.7%), while 4.5% were underweight and 18.7% were overweight/obese. Underweight children and children with stunted growth (11.5%) had lower average upper body strength (p<0.001). Overweight/obese children had lower scores in weight-bearing activities (p<0.001). Children with higher socio-economic status were more likely to be overweight and obese (p<0.001). In the multivariate analyses, sex, age, body mass index, and stunting were associated with children’s physical fitness.

Conclusion: Fitness assessments seem to be a relevant measure of the current health status of children in disadvantaged settings. Compared to international norms, the children in this study had relatively low scores for both upper- and lower body muscular strength. Therefore, effective school-based intervention programmes should be developed to improve children’s physical fitness in disadvantaged schools.

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