Greek Children Living in Rural Areas Are Heavier but Fitter Compared to Their Urban Counterparts: A Comparative, Time-Series (1997-2008) Analysis

Authors

  • Konstantinos D. Tambalis Msc,

    1. Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece
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  • Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos PhD,

    1. Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece
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  • Labros S. Sidossis PhD

    1. Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece
    2. Department of Internal Medicine, Sealy Center on Aging, Institute for Translational Sciences and Shriners Burns Institute, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Texas
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  • The authors declare no conflict of interest. This study was supported by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Secretariat General of Sports and the Hellenic Atherosclerosis Society. We are very grateful to Mr. Dimitrios Economou (network administrator for the Secretariat General of Sports) for his assistance with data retrieval and to all Physical Education professionals that have participated in the data collection over the years. For further information, contact: Labros S. Sidossis, Laboratory of Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, 70 El. Venizelou Str, Athens 17671, Greece, e-mail lsidossis@hua.gr.

Abstract

Purpose: To compare 12-year (1997-2008) trends in the distribution of Body Mass Index (BMI) status and physical fitness test performances among 8- to 9-year-old Greek children living in rural and urban areas.

Methods: Population data derived from 11 national school-based health surveys conducted from 1997 to 2008. Anthropometric measurements and physical fitness test performances (ie, multistage shuttle run, vertical jump, small ball throw, and 30-meter sprint) from 725,163 children were analyzed. Distribution between rural and urban areas was based on the Hellenic National Statistics Service (HNSS) criteria.

Findings: Trend analysis showed an increase in the prevalence of obesity in children living in urban areas from 7.2% in 1997 to 11.3% in 2008 for girls (P < .001) and from 8.1% to 12.4% (P < .001) for boys. In rural areas, obesity increased from 7% in 1997 to 13% in 2008 for girls (P < .001), and from 8.2% to 14.1% (P < .001) for boys. The annual rate of obesity increase was 40%-50% higher in children from rural areas. Nevertheless, rural children presented better performances in all of the physical fitness tests examined. Specifically, mean values of aerobic performance decreased from 3.58 ± 1.9 stages in 1997 to 3.02 ± 2.1 stages in 2007 for boys (P < .001), and from 2.97 ± 1.5 stages to 2.53 ± 1.7 stages (P < .001) for girls in urban areas, whereas in rural areas, the correspondent values were not significantly different between 1997 and 2007.

Conclusions: Childhood obesity rates are higher in rural compared with urban areas in Greece, despite an apparent higher fitness level of children living in rural areas.

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