Developmental origins of physical fitness: the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study

Salonen, Minna K., Kajantie, Eero, Osmond, Clive, Forsén, Tom, Ylihärsilä, Hilkka, Paile-Hyvärinen, Maria, Barker, D.J.P. and Eriksson, Johan G. (2011) Developmental origins of physical fitness: the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study. PLoS ONE, 6, (7), e22302. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022302). (PMID:21799817).


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Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is a major factor influencing health and disease outcomes including all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease. Importantly CRF is also modifiable and could therefore have a major public health impact. Early life exposures play a major role in chronic disease development. Our aim was to explore the potential prenatal and childhood origins of CRF in later life.

Methods/Principal Findings

This sub-study of the HBCS (Helsinki Birth Cohort Study) includes 606 men and women who underwent a thorough clinical examination and participated in the UKK 2-km walk test, which has been validated against a maximal exercise stress test as a measure of CRF in population studies. Data on body size at birth and growth during infancy and childhood were obtained from hospital, child welfare and school health records. Body size at birth was not associated with adult CRF. A 1 cm increase in height at 2 and 7 years was associated with 0.21 ml/kg/min (95% CI 0.02 to 0.40) and 0.16 ml/kg/min (95% CI 0.03 to 0.28) higher VO2max, respectively. Adjustment for adult lean body mass strengthened these findings. Weight at 2 and 7 years and height at 11 years became positively associated with CRF after adult lean body mass adjustment. However, a 1 kg/m2 higher BMI at 11 years was associated with ?0.57 ml/kg/min (95% CI ?0.91 to ?0.24) lower adult VO2max, and remained so after adjustment for adult lean body mass.


We did not observe any significant associations between body size at birth and CRF in later life. However, childhood growth was associated with CRF in adulthood. These findings suggest, importantly from a public point of view, that early growth may play a role in predicting adult CRF.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022302
ISSNs: 1932-6203 (print)
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RB Pathology
R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
Divisions : Faculty of Medicine
ePrint ID: 206337
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
July 2011Published
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2011 15:07
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 13:48

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