February 12, 2019
2 min read

Low physical fitness, obesity in adolescents linked to disability later

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Pontus Henriksson 2019
Pontus Henriksson

Individuals with low cardiorespiratory fitness and obesity during their teenage years were more likely to have chronic disability later in life due to a variety of diseases and causes, according to findings published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

“In many countries, disability pensions are granted to working-aged persons who are likely to never work full-time again because of a chronic disease or injury diagnosed by a physician,” Pontus Henriksson, PhD, from Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, and colleagues wrote. “In addition to serving as an important indicator of chronic disease, disability pensions are associated with high societal costs and thus have not only clinical but also economic consequences.”

Henriksson and colleagues performed a population-based cohort study to determine if cardiorespiratory fitness and obesity in male adolescents is associated with disability later in life.

The researchers enrolled 1,079,128 adolescents aged 16 to 19 years from Sweden who were enlisted into the military between 1972 and 1994. They measured participants’ cardiorespiratory fitness and BMI at conscription. These measurements were compared with data on later receipt of disability pension due to all and specific causes obtained from the Social Insurance Agency.

Follow-up was conducted at a median of 28.3 years.

Results showed that a disability pension was granted to 54,304 men. There was a strong association between low cardiorespiratory fitness and later receipt of a disability pension due to all causes for the lowest vs. highest fitness decile (HR = 3.74; 95% CI, 3.55-3.95), as well as specific causes, including injuries, tumors and psychiatric, musculoskeletal, nervous system and circulatory reasons.

Additionally, patients with obesity, especially those with class II and III obesity, were much more likely to receive a disability pension due to all and specific causes.

Patients who were moderately or highly fit had a lower risk for receipt of a disability pension across BMI categories, compared with those who were unfit.

“In this study of over 1 million men, we demonstrate that both low cardiorespiratory fitness and obesity in adolescence are strong risk factors for later disability pension for a wide range of disease and causes,” Henriksson told Healio Primary Care Today. “Clinicians should consider cardiorespiratory fitness and healthy body weight during adolescence as important markers of future health. Cardiorespiratory fitness is possible to measure in a clinical setting and proposed as a clinical vital sign by the American Heart Association.”

“We need further well-designed longitudinal studies, including studies of women, to elucidate the role of fitness and obesity on later disability risk,” he added. – by Alaina Tedesco


Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.