Physical activity and physical fitness play an important role in the prevention of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence and reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese in adulthood.
To evaluate the development of physical fitness in overweight and non-overweight primary school children from the first to third grades.
Using a longitudinal study design, body height and weight as well as physical fitness of primary school children from Tyrol, Austria were measured five times during a period of 2.5 years using the German motor performance test (DMT 6–18).
In total, 266 children (55% boys) with a mean age of 6.4 ± 0.5 years at baseline participated. The proportion of overweight children was 11% at baseline and 22% at the fifth time point. Overweight children showed a significantly lower physical fitness level (mean total z‑score of DMT6–18) at all 5 time points (Hedges g: 0.64–1.09). Repeated measurement analyses of variances showed a significant increase of physical fitness over time among overweight (partial η2: 0.12) and non-overweight (partial η2: 0.29) children. With respect to gender, physical fitness significantly increased over time among overweight (partial η2: 0.20) and non-overweight (partial η2: 0.28) girls, as well as among non-overweight boys (partial η2: 0.31) but not among overweight boys (partial η2: 0.07).
Overweight and non-overweight primary school children significantly increased their physical fitness over the study period; however, overweight children showed a significantly lower physical fitness level at all test time points and did not even achieve the mean baseline fitness level of non-overweight children. With respect to the increasing percentage of overweight children over the study period, evidence-based preventive measures to reduce overweight and increase physical fitness should be implemented at the earliest in primary schools with a special focus on overweight boys.