Inactive children suffer the consequences later in life, study finds

Science and Health

A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reveals that children who lead a physically inactive lifestyle may face elevated cholesterol levels in early adulthood, leading to potential heart health issues in their mid-40s.

The research suggests that childhood sedentary behavior contributes significantly to a person’s cholesterol levels before their mid-20s, emphasizing the long-term impact on cardiovascular health.

Dr. Andrew O. Agbaje, the study’s author from the University of Eastern Finland, explains, “Our study shows increased sedentary time in childhood may contribute to two-thirds of the total increase in a person’s cholesterol levels before their mid-twenties. This suggests childhood sedentariness may be a major risk factor for elevated cholesterol and subsequent premature heart attack or stroke when individuals reach their mid-forties.”

The research utilized activity tracker data and cholesterol measurements from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, following 11-year-old children for up to 13 years. The findings indicate that sedentary time increased from approximately 6 hours/day in childhood to 9 hours/day in young adulthood, contributing nearly 70% to the overall increase in cholesterol levels.

Fitness (credit: INGIMAGE)

Physical activity during childhood 5-8 times more effective

Surprisingly, the study reveals that light-intensity physical activity during childhood maybe 5-8 times more effective than moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at counteracting the adverse effects of sedentary time on high cholesterol. Light physical activity decreased from 6 hours/day in childhood to 3 hours/day in young adulthood but was associated with a cumulative reduction in total cholesterol.

While moderate-to-vigorous physical activity remained relatively stable at around 50 mins/day from childhood to young adulthood, it was only associated with reduced total cholesterol. However, increased body fat diminished moderate-to-vigorous physical activity’s impact on total cholesterol.

Dr. Agbaje suggests, “Engaging in light physical activity for 3-4 hours/day may be an effective way to reduce high cholesterol and avoid heart health issues later in life.”


The study’s implications highlight the importance of addressing sedentary behavior in childhood as a critical factor influencing long-term cardiovascular health. The research was funded by various foundations, including the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research, and the Orion Research Foundation, among others.

The study, titled “Associations of Sedentary Time and Physical Activity from Childhood with Lipids: A 13-Year Mediation and Temporal Study,” is available online.