Low physical fitness during adolescence associated with later receipt of disability pension

Obesity or low physical fitness during adolescence is strongly associated with disability pension later in life. This is shown in a study of more than one million Swedish men, published in Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers at Karolinska Institutet.

In many countries, disability pensions are granted to working-aged persons who are likely to never work full-time again because of a chronic disease or injury diagnosed by a physician.

In addition to serving as an important indicator of chronic disease, disability pensions are associated with high societal costs.

Researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and University of Granada in Spain led a study assessing cardiorespiratory fitness and weight for more than 1 million men between the ages of 16 and 19. Data from the Swedish military service conscription registry was used. The researchers then reviewed who would later in life go on to receive a medical disability pension.

Over a median follow-up of 28.3 years, the data showed that low cardiorespiratory fitness was strongly associated with later receipt of a disability pension due to all causes. Obesity was also associated with a greater risk for disability pension, with the greatest risks observed for severe/morbid obesity.

Important marker regardless of body weight

However, the researchers noted that compared with being unfit, being moderately or highly fit was associated with lower risk for disability, regardless of BMI. According to the researchers, this means that being physically fit is an important indicator of health irrespectively of body weight.

"Our findings support the relevance of cardiorespiratory fitness and healthy body weight during adolescence as important markers of future health", said Pontus Henriksson, researcher at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet, and first author of the study.

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