Efforts to reveal the direction of influence between physical activity (PA), sedentary time (ST) and body fat in youth have produced inconsistent results, possibly due to a lack of adjustment for confounders and other factors. Sex-specific associations have rarely been studied.
A sample from two Norwegian birth cohorts (n = 809) were followed biennially over five waves from the age of 6–14 years. Physical activity and ST were recorded by accelerometers, and body fat was assessed by bioelectrical impedance measurements.
By applying a dynamic panel model (DPM) that adjusts for all time-invariant confounding factors, it was found that among boys, increased fat mass index (FMI) at ages 8, 10 and 12 years predicted decreased PA two years later (8–10 years: B = −0.67, (95% CI: −1.1, −0.24); 10–12 years: B = −0.33, (95% CI: −0.61, −0.05); 12–14 years: B = −0.29, (95% CI: −0.52, −0.06)). Regarding the opposite direction of influence, more PA at age 12 forecasted reduced FMI at age 14 (B = −0.16, (95% CI: −0.24, −0.07)), whereas increased FMI predicted increased ST across all time points in boys only (6–8 years: B = 0.23, (95% CI:0.02.43); 8–10 years: B = 0.23, (95% CI:.08.39); 10–12 years: B = 0.13, (95% CI:.03.23); 12–14 years: B = 0.17, (95% CI:.07, 26)). The revealed relationships were significantly stronger in boys compared to the (absent) relations in girls. Sensitivity analyses examining moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA) rather than total PA were in accordance with the main findings.
In boys, increased FMI predicted reduced PA and increased ST two years later from childhood to adolescence. The opposite direction of influence was evident from only ages 12–14. There were no prospective relationships between FMI and PA or ST among girls.
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The present inquiry uses data from the Trondheim Early Secure Study (TESS). Because TESS is still ongoing and consent restrictions from the participants apply, data cannot be made available. However, the TESS research group collaborates with a number of national and international researchers and welcomes potential collaborators to contact the principal investigator Lars Wichstrøm (email@example.com) or co-PI Silje Steinsbekk (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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We would like to thank the participants of the TESS, which the current study is based on, and the research assistants who collected the data.
This research was supported by Grants 228685, 213793 and 301446 from the Research Council of Norway, a grant from The Liaison Committee between Central Norway RHA and NTNU, and Grant FO5148 from the Norwegian ExtraFoundation for Health and Rehabilitation.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Table S2. Sensitivity analysis. Sex-specific two-year relations between body fat, MVPA and sedentary time from childhood to adolescence
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Zahl-Thanem, T., Wichstrøm, L. & Steinsbekk, S. Relations between physical activity, sedentary time, and body fat from childhood to adolescence: Do they differ by sex?. Int J Obes (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-022-01156-6