Physical Activity Patterns Over 10 Years in Relation to Body Mass Index and Waist Circumference: The Whitehall II Cohort Study


  • Author contributions: MH had full access to the data, and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and accuracy of the data analyses. All authors contributed to the concept and design of study, drafting and critical revision of the manuscript. Disclosures: None of the authors report any conflicts of interest. Funding agencies: The Whitehall II study has been supported by grants from the Medical Research Council; British Heart Foundation, Health and Safety Executive, Department of Health, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (R01HL36310), US, NIH: National Institute on Aging (R01AG013196; R01AG034454), US, NIH, Agency for Health Care Policy Research (HS06516), John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Research Networks on Successful Midlife Development and Socio-economic Status and Health. MH, EJB and MJS are supported by the British Heart Foundation (RE/10/005/28296) and (RG/07/008/23674); MK is supported by the Medical Research Council (K013351), the Academy of Finland and an ESRC professorial fellowship; GDB was a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow during the preparation of this manuscript; AS-M is supported by a “EURYI” award from the European Science Foundation.



Physical activity patterns over 10-years in relation to changes in body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) were examined.

Design and Methods

Participants (4,880, mean age 49.3 years at baseline) from the Whitehall II cohort study were included. Self-reported physical activity and anthropometric data were collected at baseline (1991) and twice during follow-up (1997 and 2002).


At baseline, meeting established guidelines for physical activity, particularly through vigorous activity, was associated with lower WC (multivariable adjusted B compared to not meeting the guidelines −2.08 cm, 95% CI, −1.39, −0.75) and BMI (−0.34 kg/m2 , −0.10, −0.59). Based on repeat data, “high adherence” to the guidelines compared to “rare adherence” over follow-up was associated with lower BMI (adjusted difference, −0.43 kg/m2, 95% CI, −0.79, −0.08) and WC (−2.50 cm, 95% CI, −3.46, −1.54) at follow-up. Compared to participants that remained stable between 1997 and 2002 (change of <2.5 h/week), those that reported an increase in moderate-vigorous physical activity of at least 2.5 h/week displayed lower BMI (−0.40 kg/m2, 95% CI, −0.71, −0.08) and WC (−1.10 cm, 95% CI, −1.95, −0.75).


Regular physical activity, confirmed by repeated assessments, is associated with relatively favorable levels of adiposity markers after 10 years follow-up.