Determinant factors of physical fitness in European children



This study was designed to explore the determinants of physical fitness in European children aged 6–11 years, cross-sectionally and longitudinally.


There were sufficient data on 4903 children (50.6 % girls) on measured physical fitness (cardio-respiratory, muscular strength, flexibility, balance, and speed) and possible determinants related to child characteristics, child lifestyle and parental factors. Multivariate and mixed linear regression models were conducted.


Age, sex, children’s BMI and physical activity were independent and strong determinants of children’s fitness. Significant but small effects were found for low maternal BMI, high psychosocial well-being and fruit and vegetable intake as protective determinants. Sleep duration, breakfast intake, parental age and education and paternal BMI did not have a consistently significant effect on physical fitness. The role of determinants depended on children’s sex and the specific PF component. Longitudinal analyses especially highlighted the importance of child’s BMI as physical fitness determinant, independent of physical activity.


BMI together with physical activity, diet and psychosocial factors are modifiable targets to enhance physical fitness. This calls for policy approaches that combine these factors in a systematic way.

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This work was done as part of the IDEFICS Study ( We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the European Community within the Sixth RTD Framework Programme Contract No. 016181 (FOOD). Mahmoud Zaqout was financially supported by the Flemish University Council-University Development Cooperation (VLIR-UOS). The information in this document reflects the author’s view and is provided as such. The authors want to thank the participating children and their parents for their voluntary participation.

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Correspondence to Mahmoud Zaqout.

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On behalf of the IDEFICS consortium.

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Zaqout, M., Vyncke, K., Moreno, L.A. et al. Determinant factors of physical fitness in European children. Int J Public Health 61, 573–582 (2016).

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  • Physical fitness
  • Children
  • Lifestyle
  • Parental determinants
  • Body mass index