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Journal of Sports Sciences
ISSN: 0264-0414 (Print) 1466-447X (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rjsp20
Physical activity and health-related fitness in Asian
adolescents: The Asia-fit study
Stanley Sai-Chuen Hui, Ru Zhang, Koya Suzuki, Hisashi Naito, Govindasamy
Balasekaran, Jong-Kook Song, Soo Yeon Park, Yiing-Mei Liou, Dajiang Lu, Bee
Koon Poh, Kallaya Kijboonchoo & Wiyada Thasanasuwan
To cite this article: Stanley Sai-Chuen Hui, Ru Zhang, Koya Suzuki, Hisashi Naito, Govindasamy
Balasekaran, Jong-Kook Song, Soo Yeon Park, Yiing-Mei Liou, Dajiang Lu, Bee Koon Poh, Kallaya
Kijboonchoo & Wiyada Thasanasuwan (2019): Physical activity and health-related fitness in Asian
adolescents: The Asia-fit study, Journal of Sports Sciences, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2019.1695334
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2019.1695334
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Published online: 27 Nov 2019.
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JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCES
https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2019.1695334
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, HEALTH AND EXERCISE
Physical activity and health-related fitness in Asian adolescents: The Asia-fit study
Stanley Sai-Chuen Hui a, Ru Zhang a, Koya Suzuki b, Hisashi Naitob, Govindasamy Balasekaranc, Jong-Kook Songd,
Soo Yeon Parke, Yiing-Mei Liouf, Dajiang Lug, Bee Koon Pohh, Kallaya Kijboonchooi and Wiyada Thasanasuwani
a
Department of Sports Science and Physical Education, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China; bGraduate School of Health and Sports
Science, Juntendo University, Tokyo, Japan; cDepartment of Physical Education and Sports Science, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore;
d
College of Physical Education, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea; eDepartment of Physical Education, Yong In University, Seoul, Korea; fInstitute of
Community Health Care, School of Nursing, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan; gSchool of Kinesiology, Shanghai University of Sport, Shanghai,
China; hNutritional Sciences Programme & Centre for Community Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, The National University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia; iDepartment of Nutrition, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand
ABSTRACT
Purpose: The present study aimed to investigate and compare physical activity (PA) and health-related fitness
in Asian adolescents, and to examine the associations between meeting PA guidelines and attaining fitness
standards. Methods: A sample of 12,590 adolescents (Mage = 13.63 years, SD = 1.01) from eight Asian
metropolitan cities completed measurements of PA, five field-based fitness tests, and covariates. The fitness
test scores were further classified into Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) or Needs Improvement Zone (NIZ). Results:
Findings showed that adolescents’ levels of PA and fitness components differed by cities. City differences were
also found in proportions of meeting PA guidelines and achieving the HFZs of aerobic capacity, muscular
fitness, and body composition. After controlling covariates, meeting PA guidelines positively associated with
being in the HFZs of aerobic and muscular fitness, but the association was not significant with being in the
body composition HFZ. Conclusion: There was a large variation in PA and health-related fitness in adolescents
across the eight Asian cities. Asian adolescents achieving PA guidelines were more likely to be in the HFZ of
aerobic and muscular fitness. Prospective follow-up studies are warranted to gain better insights into the
relationships between objectively-measured PA and fitness.
Health-related fitness has been considered as an effective preventative strategy against cardiovascular diseases (CVD), all-cause
mortality, and other adverse health consequences (Janssen &
LeBlanc, 2010; Ortega, Ruiz, Castillo, & Sjöström, 2007). The five
components of health-related fitness include aerobic capacity,
muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition (e.g., body fat percentage and body mass index). Healthrelated fitness can be a key factor in improving CVD risk profile
(Mintjens et al., 2018). Some evidence indicates that aerobic capacity and body composition, are negatively associated with CVD
risk factors, adiposity, and adverse bone health in adolescents
(Eisenmann, Welk, Ihmels, & Dollman, 2007; Smith et al., 2014).
Findings also show that adolescents with high aerobic capacity
have low body fat (Eisenmann et al., 2007). Furthermore, prospective evidence suggests that high levels of aerobic capacity during
adolescence provide long-term beneficial effects on adulthood
health outcomes such as body fatness (Eisenmann, Wickel, Welk,
& Blair, 2005; Smith et al., 2014).
In spite of the health benefits of fitness, adolescents’ performance in aerobic capacity, muscular fitness, and body composition have been declining in recent decades (Tomkinson et al.,
2018). It has been estimated that aerobic fitness and fatness for
children and adolescent in some high-income countries have
flattened (Abarca-Gómez et al., 2017; Tomkinson, Lang, &
Tremblay, 2019), whereas in Asia, adolescents’ performances in
cardiovascular endurance tests has declined at 4-5% per decade
CONTACT Stanley Sai-Chuen Hui
[email protected]
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed here.
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
ARTICLE HISTORY
Accepted 13 November 2019
KEYWORDS
Aerobic capacity; physical
fitness; adolescent health;
cross-cultural comparison;
public health
since 1970 (Macfarlane & Tomkinson, 2007). A large proportion of
school-aged adolescents achieve inadequate levels of aerobic and
muscular fitness (Macfarlane & Tomkinson, 2007). For example,
findings from the national fitness tests in China revealed that only
around one-third of Chinese adolescents passed the fitness standards with a good-to-excellent score (Zhu, Yang, Kong, Zhang, &
Zhuang, 2017). Similar findings have been made in other Asian
countries and subnational regions such as Hong Kong and Korea
(Huang et al., 2019; Lee, Ko, & Park, 2017). Along with the decline in
aerobic and muscular fitness, there have been rising trends in
body mass index (BMI) amongst east and south Asian adolescents
for both sexes, and southeast Asia for boys (Abarca-Gómez et al.,
2017). These findings indicate that there is a need for Asian
adolescents to maintain an active lifestyle to improve healthrelated fitness and reap the related health benefits.
Regular physical activity (PA) is a promising focus for improving
health-related fitness in adolescents (Marques, Santos, Ekelund, &
Sardinha, 2015; Morrow et al., 2013). Consistent findings showed
that high levels of moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) were associated with better aerobic and muscular fitness and body composition in adolescents, independent of sedentary time (Collings
et al., 2017; Marques et al., 2015; Santos et al., 2019). In addition,
recent evidence suggests that adolescents who met PA guidelines
of at least daily 60-minute MVPA are more likely to reach criterionreferenced standards of fitness (Morrow et al., 2013; Tucker et al.,
2014). That means meeting PA guidelines has beneficial effects on
Department of Sports Science & P.E., The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
2
S. S.-C. HUI ET AL.
adolescents’ fitness (Morrow et al., 2013). Yet, except a few of
studies conducted in the context of North America, the question
on whether meeting PA guidelines could increase the attainment
of healthy fitness standards has not been fully examined in Asian
adolescents. Examining such a link could validate current PA
guidelines for Asian adolescents and increase their fitness levels.
Multi-country data on PA and health-related fitness are available for European children and adolescents (Andersen et al., 2006;
Konstabel et al., 2014; Ortega et al., 2011; Tomkinson et al., 2018),
but little data on Asian children and adolescents are available.
Except for two studies that compared adolescents’ fitness in few
Asian countries/regions two decades ago (Hatano et al., 1997;
Meshizuka & Nakanishi, 1972), most of the recent studies on
Asian adolescents’ PA and fitness were in a single country or
subnational region (Lee et al., 2017; Zhu et al., 2017). Despite
these studies conducted on national PA and fitness surveillance,
a large variety of sampling strategies and a lack of standardised
and validated measurements make it difficult to evaluate intercountry differences in Asian adolescents’ PA and health-related
fitness. Furthermore, examining data under different cultural and
geographic contexts can improve understanding of the generalisability of the direction (Sallis et al., 2009; Van Dyck et al., 2013).
Data collected in a single country/subnational region may show
limited variance and results underestimating the association
between meeting PA guidelines and health-related fitness. An
Asia-wide study is needed to assess PA and health-related fitness
in adolescents.
Therefore, the present study aimed (1) to investigate and
compare the prevalence of PA and health-related fitness in Asian
adolescents, and (2) to examine the associations between meeting
PA guidelines and achieving health-related fitness standards. As
per the tenets of previous research, it was hypothesised that (1)
Asian adolescents’ PA and health-related fitness components (i.e.,
aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, body fat percentage, and BMI) would differ by cities (AbarcaGómez et al., 2017; Guthold, Stevens, Riley, & Bull, 2018), (2) the
proportions of meeting PA guidelines and achieving criterionreferenced standards of health-related fitness would differ by
cities (Guthold et al., 2018; Tomkinson et al., 2018), and (3) those
who met PA guidelines were more likely to attain the criterionreferenced standards of health-related fitness (Morrow et al., 2013;
Tucker et al., 2014).
Methods
Study design and participants
To explore the hypotheses, the Asia-Fit study was conducted to
collect and compare Asian adolescents’ PA, health-related
fitness, adiposity, as well as their correlates. A representative
sample of adolescents was randomly collected in eight Asian
cities, including Shanghai (Mainland China), Hong Kong SAR,
Tokyo (Japan), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore, Seoul
(South Korea), Taipei (Taiwan), and Bangkok (Thailand). These
cities were selected because they (a) represent the most significant metropolises in Southeast Asian countries or large
within-country regions, and (b) are diverse in geography, culture, ethnicity, and language. A stratified random sampling
strategy was used in each study city, taking into account the
number of participants by gender, age, and geographic locations of their schools. All students aged 12–15 years with
a health status that could participate in physical education
classes were eligible. We targeted adolescents aged
12–15 years because this is a transition period from childhood
to young adulthood. In addition, adolescents enter secondary
schools at or around 12 years old. A total of 12,590 adolescents
(6,027 girls, 6,561 boys, and 2 genders missing; Mage
= 13.63 years; SD = 1.01) were collected and included in further
data analyses. An overview of sample characteristics is
described in Table 1.
The ethical committee on the Use of Human & Animal
Subjects in Teaching and Research (HASC) in each city
approved the Asia-Fit study. Written consent was obtained
from the adolescents’ legal guardians. Data collection was
conducted in physical education classes by five trained
research assistants during the same academic year 2013–2014
(see Table 1). A written operational procedure was provided in
each city to specify the equipment standards, test instructions,
and scoring, as well as to indicate where modifications could be
accepted to accommodate the local contexts.
Measures
Participants were asked to report their age, gender, PA, sedentary time, and general health and finish a field-based healthrelated fitness test during physical education classes under the
supervision of well-trained research assistants. A detailed
description of the measures is provided in Table A1 in the
supplemental online materials.
Self-reported PA was measured using the intervieweradministered International Physical Activity QuestionnaireShort Form (IPAQ-SF, Lee, Lam, & Stewart, 2011). The Chinese,
English, Japanese, and Korean versions of IPAQ-SF were used in
the current study, with good reliability and validity (Lee et al.,
2011). Participants reported the frequency and duration of
walking, and moderate- and vigorous-intensity PA in the last
seven days. The frequency and duration were multiplied to
Table 1. Response details and sample characteristics by cities.
City
Bangkok
Hong Kong
Kuala Lumpur
Seoul
Shanghai
Singapore
Taipei
Tokyo
Total
Sample size, n
1,118
1,626
1,513
1,686
1,599
1,736
1,620
1,692
12,590
% Female adolescents
49.7%
48.7%
49.9%
46.5%
49.1%
45.6%
47.2%
47.2%
47.9%
% Adolescents aged 12-13yrs
34.5%
50.1%
41.4%
49.1%
30.2%
49.2%
36.7%
58.0%
44.2%
Age, M (SD)
13.95 (0.85)
13.52 (0.97)
13.74 (1.03)
13.35 (1.01)
14.01 (0.84)
13.50 (1.21)
13.84 (0.91)
13.30 (0.94)
13.63 (1.01)
Age, Range
12-15yrs
12-15yrs
12-15yrs
12-15yrs
12-15yrs
12-15yrs
12-15yrs
12-15yrs
12-15yrs
JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCES
calculate the minutes of walking, moderate PA, and vigorous PA
per week. Meeting PA guidelines for adolescents were operationalised as “average daily MVPA is at least 60 minutes
per day” (Tremblay et al., 2016).
Health-related fitness was estimated using FITNESSGRAM
(Cooper Institute, 2017) and EUROFIT (Council of Europe, 1996)
test batteries, both of which have demonstrated acceptable reliability and validity in adolescents (Castro-Piñero et al., 2010, 2009;
Lobelo, Pate, Dowda, Liese, & Ruiz, 2009). Specifically, aerobic
capacity was assessed using a 15-metre Progressive Aerobic
Cardiovascular Endurance Run (15m PACER). We used the 15m
PACER instead of the 20m version due to the imitated size of
school gymnasiums. The 15m PACER is a suitable alternative for
schools with small gymnasiums because evidence has suggested
that the two versions of the PACER provide similar profile of
adolescents’ aerobic capacity (McClain, Welk, Ihmels, & Schaben,
2006). The scores of 15m PACER were converted to 20m PACER,
according to the conversion chart released in FITNESSGRAM manual (Cooper Institute, 2017). Muscular strength was assessed using
hand-grip strength dynamometer, accuracy to the nearest 0.1 kg
(Takei Scientific Instruments Co. Ltd., T.K.K. 5101 Grip D, Tokyo,
Japan). An average score was calculated for left-hand and righthand grip strength. Muscular endurance was evaluated using oneminute sit-up test. Muscular flexibility was assessed using the Back
Saver Sit-and-Reach flexibility test (MBSR). An average score of the
sit-and-reach test was calculated for the right and the left legs.
Furthermore, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA, Tanita, TBF543, Japan) and equipment measuring height (SECA S-208M, the
United States) and weight (TANITA, BC-581, Japan) were used to
evaluate participants body fat percentage and BMI (kg∙m−2), respectively. Self-reported height and weight were not used in the
current study because of potential bias according to age, sex,
and socioeconomic status (Abarca-Gómez et al., 2017). Instead of
self-reported measures, participants were asked to wear minimal
clothing without shoes to measure weight (kg) and height (m)
using electronic scales.
Test scores of aerobic capacity and body composition (i.e.,
body fat %) were classified into Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) or
Needs Improvement Zone (NIZ), according to the age- and gender-specific criterion-referenced standards released in
FITNESSGRAM/ACTIVITYGRAM test administration manual (Cooper
Institute, 2017). To determine the functional status of the musculoskeletal system, test scores of muscular strength, muscular
endurance, and flexibility were combined into one broad fitness
category, which was muscular fitness (Cooper Institute, 2017,
p. 45). Based on the operationalised procedures described elsewhere (Morrow et al., 2013), achieving the HFZ of muscular fitness
was defined as being in HFZ for any two or all three of the backsaver sit and reach, one-minute sit-up and handgrip. The criterionreferenced standards of muscular fitness were adopted from
FITNESSGRAM/ACTIVITYGRAM test administration manual
(Cooper Institute, 2017) and Y’s way to physical fitness (Golding,
Myers, & Sinning, 1989).
Covariates
Age, gender, perceived overall health status, self-reported sedentary time, physical education (PE) class time being in physically
active, and organised sport participation were measured as
3
covariates because they have the potential to influence PA
(Marques et al., 2015; Tucker et al., 2014). Perceived overall health
status was measured using one item (i.e., “How do you think about
your health?”) on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (very bad) to
5 (very good). Interviewer-administered Adolescent Sedentary
Activity Questionnaire (Hardy, Booth, & Okely, 2007) was used to
measure participants’ sedentary time (minutes/week) on a typical
weekday and weekend. Furthermore, the participants were asked
to report regular PE class time being in physically active on a 7-point
Likert scale ranging from 1 (I don’t take any PE class) to 7 (51–60 minutes). Organised sport participation was measured using one
item (i.e., “Do you join any sport team at school or in community in
this semester, not including PE classes”) on a binary scale (yes
or no).
Data analysis
Data were evaluated using IBM SPSS Statistics 23 (Armonk, NY; IBM
Corp, 2015). Descriptive statistics, including mean, standard division (SD), and percentages, were evaluated. One-way Multivariate
Analysis of Covariance (MANCOVA) was used to test city differences in PA (i.e., walking and MVPA) and health-related fitness
components, adjusting for covariates. Chi-square statistics were
used to assess city differences in the proportions of adolescents
meeting PA guidelines and being in the HFZ. In addition, Binary
logistic regressions were used to examine the odds of being in the
HFZ by adolescents meeting and not meeting PA guidelines. The
dependent variables included three dichotomous (HFZ or NIZ)
fitness variables, namely aerobic capacity, muscular fitness, and
body composition. The independent variable was the dichotomous variable of PA (met PA guidelines or not met). Their associations were analysed without (Model 1) and with covariates
(Model 2). All the effect sizes were considered to be statistically
significant when the p-value was less than 0.05.
Results
Descriptive characteristics of participants
Table 1 shows demographic characteristics of the participants.
A total of 12,590 adolescents (Mage = 13.63 years, SD = 1.01, age
range = 12–15 years) participated in the current study. The sample
had a fairly balanced proportion of female and male adolescents.
MANCOVA revealed a statistically significant multivariate
effect of city on PA and health-related fitness adjusting for
age, gender, perceived sedentary time, perceived health status,
PE class time being in physically active, and organised sport
participation, Willks’Lambda = 0.56, F (56, 35,612) = 72.19,
p < .001, partial η2 = .079. As Table 2 shows, subsequent
ANOVAs revealed a significant univariate effect of city on
each of the dependent variables including walking (p < .001),
MVPA (p < .001), aerobic capacity (p < .001), muscular strength
(p < .001), muscular endurance (p < .001), muscular flexibility
(p < .001), body fat percentage (p < .001) and BMI (p < .001).
As Table 3 shows, the prevalence of meeting PA guidelines
and being in the HFZ of aerobic capacity, muscular fitness, and
body composition also varied across the eight cities. The largest
proportions of adolescents meeting PA guidelines (32.4%) and
S. S.-C. HUI ET AL.
achieving HFZ of aerobic capacity (56.2%), muscular fitness
(43.8%), and body composition (73.2%) were found in Tokyo.
Conversely, Hong Kong had the lowest percentage of adolescents meeting PA guidelines (13.5%). Adolescents in Bangkok
and Kuala Lumpur had the lowest percentages achieving HFZ
of aerobic capacity (8.7%) and muscular fitness (7.4%), respectively. Korean adolescents had the lowest percentage being in
HFZ body composition (52.2%).
MVPA = Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, PA = Physical activity, BMI = Body Mass Index, SD = Standard deviation, η2 = Partial eta squared.
Covariates included age, gender, perceived health status, sedentary time, PE class time being in physically active, and organised sport participation. * p < .05, ** p < .01, ***p < .001, 2 tailed.
BMI (kg/m2)
20.57 (4.19)
20.35 (3.83)
20.38 (4.20)
21.34 (3.54)
20.69 (3.54)
19.49 (3.67)
21.08 (4.04)
19.01 (2.92)
F = 25.31***
Partial η2 = .026
Body fat (%)
22.89 (10.65)
21.49 (10.16)
22.21 (9.47)
24.53 (9.95)
22.05 (9.61)
20.34 (9.73)
22.97 (9.75)
19.70 (8.31)
F = 28.68***
Partial η2 = .029
MVPA
(min/week)
Aerobic capacity (ml/kg/min) Muscular strength (kg) Muscular endurance (reps) Muscular flexibility (cm)
211.08 (207.65)
23.44 (12.40)
25.99 (6.37)
27.11 (9.82)
24.67 (9.28)
180.15 (225.32)
27.39 (13.68)
26.61 (6.90)
30.09 (9.97)
22.33 (11.64)
225.67 (207.02)
24.64 (12.90)
24.15 (6.29)
25.26 (7.12)
27.19 (8.82)
289.80 (243.81)
32.01 (14.47)
25.15 (7.52)
38.01 (12.36)
32.34 (10.57)
318.46 (221.91)
31.16 (12.35)
27.73 (7.03)
36.36 (9.25)
27.76 (9.65)
279.62 (268.55)
30.72 (16.79)
24.40 (7.57)
39.06 (11.24)
27.06 (10.13)
208.45 (217.59)
28.98 (14.61)
25.16 (7.16)
32.68 (9.72)
24.76 (10.91)
315.15 (303.68)
43.66 (18.21)
23.74 (5.78)
39.87 (11.56)
27.22 (10.09)
F = 36.91***
F = 196.33***
F = 28.44***
F = 341.26***
F = 71.89***
2
2
2
2
Partial η = .038
Partial η = .172
Partial η = .029
Partial η = .265
Partial η2 = .071
Walking
(min/week)
170.08 (175.96)
175.74 (168.11)
187.22 (174.07)
207.61 (171.74)
210.92 (152.24)
200.58 (199.47)
152.36 (152.23)
163.59 (168.33)
F = 13.07***
Partial η2 = .014
City
Bangkok
Hong Kong
Kuala Lumpur
Seoul
Shanghai
Singapore
Taipei
Tokyo
Between-subjects effects
Health-related fitness, Mean (SD)
Physical activity, Mean (SD)
Table 2. City differences in physical activity and health-related fitness (N = 6,633).
4
Associations between meeting PA guidelines and being in
the HFZ
Table 4 shows the odds of being in the HFZ by adolescents
meeting and not meeting PA guidelines. With adolescents not
meeting PA guidelines as the reference group, those who met
PA guidelines were more likely to be in the HFZ of aerobic
capacity (OR = 2.12, 95% CI [1.88, 2.39], p < .001), muscular
fitness (OR = 1.67, 95% CI [1.49, 1.86], p < .001), and body
composition (OR = 1.12, 95% CI [1.01, 1.24], p = .04. After
adjusting for city, school, age, gender, perceived health status,
sedentary time, PE class time being in physically active, and
organised sport participation (Model 2), meeting PA guidelines
still significantly associated with being in the HFZ of aerobic
capacity (OR = 1.64, 95% CI [1.32, 1.80], p < .001) and muscular
fitness (OR = 1.24, 95% CI [1.09, 1.41], p < .001), but the
association was not significant with achieving the body composition HFZ (OR = 1.05, 95% CI [0.93, 1.18], p = .42).
Discussion
The current study was the first to produce comparable estimates of PA and health-related fitness in Asia-wide adolescents
(N = 12,590). Findings showed that adolescents’ PA (i.e., walking
and MVPA) and health-related fitness (aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, muscular flexibility, body
fat percentage and BMI) differed by city. City differences also
existed in proportions of adolescents meeting PA guidelines
and achieving criterion-referenced standards of healthy fitness.
Furthermore, our findings revealed that meeting PA guidelines
were positively associated with achieving healthy fitness standards in Asian adolescents.
Prevalence of sufficient PA varied across Asian countries and
subnational regions, ranging from 13.5% to 32.4%. Our results
showed that adolescents in Tokyo (32.4%), Singapore (26.3%),
and Shanghai (25.1%) were the most active. Conversely, the
prevalence of insufficient PA was lower than 20% in Hong Kong
(13.5%), Taipei (13.7%), Bangkok (14.0%), and Kuala Lumpur
(16.5%). That said, Tokyo had the largest proportion of adolescents achieving PA guidelines. The prevalence was more than
double in Japan than in Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, and Kuala
Lumpur. These results suggest that the factors that influence
PA are at national and community levels (Guthold et al., 2018).
The high proportion of sufficient PA in Tokyo, Singapore, and
Shanghai might be due to policy towards physical education
(PE) and sport initiatives by governments, neighbourhoods,
and schools that can increase adolescents’ awareness about
participation of active recreation and sports in daily life. For
example, the governments of Japan and Mainland China
require at least two hours of PE per week for all children
JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCES
5
Table 3. City differences in proportions of adolescents meeting physical activity guidelines and being in healthy fitness zones.
Bangkok
Hong Kong
Kuala Lumpur
Seoul
Shanghai
Singapore
Taipei
Tokyo
Distribution differences
Physical activity a, n (%)
Aerobic capacity b, n (%)
Muscular fitness c, n (%)
Body composition d, n (%)
Met PA guidelines Not met PA guidelines
120 (14.0%)
735 (86.0%)
112 (13.5%)
717 (86.5%)
223 (16.5%)
1130 (83.5%)
203 (21.3%)
752 (78.7%)
370 (25.1%)
1104 (74.9%)
235 (26.3%)
657 (73.7%)
154 (13.7%)
974 (86.3%)
245 (32.4%)
512 (67.6%)
2
χ (7, N = 8243) = 198.07
p < .001
In HFZ
In NIZ
97 (8.7%)
1012 (91.3%)
240 (15.2%) 1337 (84.8%)
201 (13.3%) 1312 (86.7%)
353 (21.0%) 1331 (79.0%)
265 (16.6%) 1330 (83.4%)
368 (23.1%) 1223 (76.9%)
289 (17.9%) 1330 (82.1%)
890 (56.2%)
694 (43.8%)
χ2 (7, N = 12,272) = 1345.90
p < .001
In HFZ
In NIZ
144 (13.0%) 967 (87.0%)
281 (17.6%) 1317 (82.4%)
112 (7.4%) 1401 (92.6%)
637 (37.8%) 1049 (62.2%)
561 (35.3%) 1029 (64.7%)
593 (36.2%) 1043 (63.8%)
308 (19.0%) 1312 (81.0%)
695 (43.8%) 891 (56.2%)
χ2 (7, N = 12,340) = 983.81
p < .001
In HFZ
In NIZ
611 (54.7%) 505 (45.3%)
994 (61.9%) 612 (38.1%)
1036 (68.5%) 477 (31.5%)
880 (52.2%) 806 (47.8%)
949 (59.5%) 647 (40.5%)
984 (59.6%) 666 (40.4%)
922 (56.9%) 698 (43.1%)
1206 (73.2%) 441 (26.8%)
χ2 (7, N = 12,434) = 226.99
p < .001
PA = Physical activity, HFZ = Healthy fitness zone, NIZ = Needs improvement zone.
a
The PA guidelines for adolescents have been operationalised as “average daily moderate-to-vigorous (MVPA) is at least 60 minutes per day” (Tremblay et al., 2016).
b
The criterion-referenced standards of aerobic capacity were adopted from FITNESSGRAM/ACTIVITYGRAM test administration manual (The Cooper Institute, 2017).
c
Achieving the muscular fitness HFZ was operationally defined as being in HFZ for any two or all three of the back-saver sit and reach, one-minute sit-up and handgrip
(Morrow et al., 2013). The criterion-referenced standards of muscular fitness were adopted from FITNESSGRAM/ACTIVITYGRAM test administration manual (The Cooper
Institute, 2017) and Y’s way to physical fitness (Golding et al., 1989).
d
Achieving the body composition HFZ was operationally defined as being in HFZ for the body fat percentage (Morrow et al., 2013). The criterion-referenced standards
of body fat percentage were adopted from FITNESSGRAM/ACTIVITYGRAM test administration manual (The Cooper Institute, 2017).
Table 4. Odds of being in the healthy fitness zones by adolescents meeting and not meeting physical activity guidelines.
Dependent variables
In aerobic capacity HFZ
In muscular fitness HFZ
In body composition HFZ
Physical activity
Not met PA guidelines (ref)
Met PA guidelines
Not met PA guidelines (ref)
Met PA guidelines
Not met PA guidelines (ref)
Met PA guidelines
Model 1a
OR [95% CI]
1.00
2.12 [1.88, 2.39]
1.00
1.67 [1.49, 1.86]
1.00
1.12 [1.00, 1.25]
Model 2 b
OR [95% CI]
1.00
1.64 [1.32, 1.80]
1.00
1.24 [1.09, 1.41]
1.00
1.05 [0.93, 1.18]
Note. PA = Physical activity; HFZ = Health fitness zone; OR = Odds ratio; 95% CI = 95% confidence interval.
Column percentages may not total 100 because of rounding.
a
The reference category was “Not met PA guidelines”
b
The reference category was “Not met PA guidelines”, adjusting for city, school, age, gender, perceived health status, sedentary time, PE class
time being in physically active, and organised sport participation.
(Pate, Trilk, Byun, & Wang, 2011). In another example, the
government of Singapore requires that public sports facilities
should be free or discountable to school-aged children and
adolescents (Pate et al., 2011). On the other hand, the highdensity urban condition might explain the lack of sufficient PA
in some regions such as Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Kuala
Lumpur. Consistent evidence has indicated that creating agefriendly physical environments such as recreational facilities
and public open spaces and parks has positive impacts on
enhancing adolescents to be active in leisure time (Sallis et al.,
2009).
The results also show a large variation in the prevalence of
attaining criterion-referenced standards of aerobic and muscular
fitness and body composition. Our findings showed that adolescents in Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul, Shanghai were superior in tests
measuring aerobic and muscular fitness, with at least 20% of
adolescents achieving criterion-referenced standards. In contrast,
the lower proportions were found in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur,
and Bangkok. These findings are similar to Asian adolescents’
fitness performances two decades ago (Hatano et al., 1997;
Macfarlane & Tomkinson, 2007; Meshizuka & Nakanishi, 1972).
Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Mainland China seem to
have a culture of fitness promotion with proper implementation
of PA policies. Besides the aerobic and muscular fitness, the
proportion that attained body composition HFZ varied in the
eight cities. Adolescents in Tokyo still had the largest rate
(73.2%), whereas only around half of adolescents in Seoul
(52.2%), Taipei (56.9%), and Bangkok (54.7%) reached the standard
of body composition. This finding is in line with previous evidence
that overweight in adolescents has reached a plateau in highincome countries but remains a problem in middle-income and
low-income countries (Abarca-Gómez et al., 2017). The policies
that target changes in nutrition and PA behaviours in adolescents
are essential in these countries.
Adolescents attaining PA guidelines are more likely to be in
healthy fitness zones independent of sedentary time. In line
with previous evidence (Marques et al., 2015; Morrow et al.,
2013), the present findings showed that higher levels of meeting PA guidelines were related to increased odds of being in
the healthy fitness zone for aerobic capacity and muscular
fitness, after adjusting for sedentary time per week. These
results suggest the importance of attaining PA guidelines for
adolescents’ aerobic and muscular fitness. In Asia, our findings
showed that only 13.5% – 32.4% of adolescents achieved the
PA guideline of at least 60-minute MVPA per day. Parents and
educators in Asian countries and regions should thus be challenged to provide strategies to encourage activity amongst
adolescents in their daily lives, to increase their health-related
fitness. However, our results revealed that the association
between achieving PA guideline and being in the healthy
fitness zone for body composition became non-significant
after covariates were included in the model, although their
6
S. S.-C. HUI ET AL.
link has been evidenced in previous studies (Marques et al.,
2015). The disparity of the findings can be explained by differences in methodological approaches for measuring PA and
sedentary time. We acknowledge the potential bias of selfreported measurements of PA, which has been identified in
previous research (Dyrstad, Hansen, Holme, & Anderssen, 2014).
Future studies should apply objectively-measuring tools such
as accelerometers to investigate PA and examine the association with body composition.
engaging in sufficient PA could improve adolescents’ healthrelated fitness, as well as provide important evidence for PA
intervention and the progress of PA and fitness policies.
Prospective follow-up studies are warranted to gain better
insights into the relationships between objectively-measured
PA and fitness.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Limitations and strengths
The limitations of the current study should be identified. First, the
cross-sectional design limited inference on the causal relationships
between PA and health-related fitness. Future longitudinal and
experimental research is recommended to examine their causal
relationships (Tomkinson et al., 2019). Second, adolescents’ PA was
estimated using IPAQ instead of objectively-measured tools such
as accelerometers. Because IPAQ has acceptable validity and reliability in Asian adolescents (Lee et al., 2011). As a free measurement
with good validity, IPAQ has been used in large cross-national
investigations (Bauman et al., 2009), although it may have potential measurement bias. In addition, we did not measure and
compare the adolescents’ PA between weekday and weekend,
which might be an important focus in future research. Third, the
HFZ cut-offs used in this study were developed in Western countries and may not be suitable for Asian adolescents. How to define
the HFZ cut-offs based on increased health risks in Asian adolescents is a priority in future research. Four, although the adolescents were asked to report their parents’ socioeconomic status
(i.e., educational levels, family income, and jobs), parents’ socioeconomic status (SES) was not included in the analyses because
these variables were missing in some countries. In addition, we did
not measure neighbourhood- and school-level factors (e.g., SES
and physical environment surrounding schools) in this study due
to the limitations in time and funding. Future research is recommended to examine the socio-ecological determinants of adolescents’ fitness and PA at multiple levels ranging from individual to
neighbourhood environment characteristics (Sallis et al., 2009).
Besides the limitations, the main strengths of this study
include a large sample size in eight Asian metropolitan cities.
Also, this study provided a comprehensive evaluation and
comparison of PA and health-related fitness in Asian-wide adolescents. This study is the first to examine the independent
effects of achieving PA guidelines on being in the HFZ in
Asian adolescents, while adjusting for sedentary time and
socio-demographic characteristics.
Conclusion
The current study was the first to produce comparable estimates of PA and health-related fitness in Asia-wide adolescents.
Findings revealed a large variation in PA and health-related
fitness (i.e., aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular
endurance, muscular flexibility, body fat percentage and BMI)
in adolescents across Asian countries and subnational regions.
In addition, Asian adolescents attaining PA guidelines were
more likely to be in the HFZs of aerobic and muscular fitness,
independent of sedentary time. These results suggest that
Funding
This work was funded by the NUS Initiative to Improve Health in Asia (NIHA)
research grant, which was supported by the Glaxo Smith Kline-Economic
Development Board (Singapore) Trust Fund and coordinated by the Global
Asia Institute of the National University of Singapore.
ORCID
Stanley Sai-Chuen Hui
http://orcid.org/0000-0002-2462-4622
Ru Zhang
http://orcid.org/0000-0001-8744-4525
Koya Suzuki
http://orcid.org/0000-0002-2089-0886
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