Open Access Research article

Association of objectively measured physical activity with body components in European adolescents

David Jiménez-Pavón12*, Amaya Fernández-Vázquez1, Ute Alexy3, Raquel Pedrero4, Magdalena Cuenca-García2, Angela Polito5, Jérémy Vanhelst67, Yannis Manios8, Anthony Kafatos9, Dénes Molnar10, Michael Sjöström11, Luis A Moreno1 and HELENA Study Group

  • * Corresponding author: David Jiménez-Pavón

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 GENUD (Growth, Exercise, Nutrition and Development), Department of Physiotherapy and Nursing, Research Group, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Zaragoza, Avd. Domingo Miral s/n, CP: 50009, Zaragoza, Spain

2 Department of Medical Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Granada, Granada, Spain

3 Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn IEL, Dortmund, Germany

4 ImFINE Research Group. Faculty of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences-INEF, Technical University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

5 Human Nutrition Unit, National Research Institute for Food and Nutrition, Rome, Italy

6 Inserm U995, University Lille Nord de France, Lille, France

7 CIC-PT-9301-Inserm-CH&U, University Hospital, Lille, France

8 Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece

9 Preventive Medicine and Nutrition Clinic, University of Crete, Heraklion, Greece

10 Department of Paediatrics, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary

11 Unit for preventive nutrition, Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:667  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-667

Published: 18 July 2013



Physical activity (PA) is suggested to contribute to fat loss not only through increasing energy expenditure “per se” but also increasing muscle mass; therefore, it would be interesting to better understand the specific associations of PA with the different body’s components such as fat mass and muscle mass. The aim of the present study was to examine the association between objectively measured PA and indices of fat mass and muscle components independently of each other giving, at the same time, gender-specific information in a wide cohort of European adolescents.


A cross-sectional study in a school setting was conducted in 2200 (1016 males) adolescents (14.7 ±1.2 years). Weight, height, skinfold thickness, bioimpedance and PA (accelerometry) were measured. Indices of fat mass (body mass index, % fat mass, sum of skinfolds) and muscular component (assessed as fat-free mass) were calculated. Multiple regression analyses were performed adjusting for several confounders including fat-free mass and fat mass when possible.


Vigorous PA was positively associated with height (p < 0.05) in males, whilst, vigorous PA, moderate-vigorous PA and average PA were negatively associated with all the indices of fat mass (all p < 0.01) in both genders, except for average PA in relation with body mass index in females. Regarding muscular components, vigorous PA showed positive associations with fat-free mass and muscle mass (all p < 0.05) in both genders. Average PA was positively associated with fat-free mass (both p < 0.05) in males and females.


The present study suggests that PA, especially vigorous PA, is negatively associated with indices of fat mass and positively associated with markers of muscle mass, after adjusting for several confounders (including indices of fat mass and muscle mass when possible). Future studies should focus not only on the classical relationship between PA and fat mass, but also on PA and muscular components, analyzing the independent role of both with the different PA intensities.

Physical activity; Fat mass; Muscular components; Adolescence