Public Health Nutrition

Research paper

Relationship of physical activity and dietary habits with body mass index in the transition from childhood to adolescence: a 4-year longitudinal study

Leen Haerensa1a2 c1, Carine Vereeckena1a3, Lea Maesa3 and Ilse De Bourdeaudhuija2

a1 Research-Foundation Flanders, Ghent University, Watersportlaan 2, 9000 Gent, Belgium

a2 Department of Movement and Sports Sciences, Ghent University, Watersportlaan 2, 9000 Gent, Belgium

a3 Department of Public Health, Ghent University, De Pintelaan 185, BLOK A, 9000 Gent, Belgium


Objective To explore the relationship between several physical activity (PA) and dietary behaviours and BMI Z-score and to investigate the relationship between changes in these variables and in the BMI Z-score over a 4-year period from childhood to adolescence.

Design Longitudinal study in which children were included in the fifth grade and measured for four consecutive years. Dietary and PA behaviours as well as height and weight were measured by means of self-reported validated questionnaires.

Setting Fifty-nine Flemish elementary schools.

Subjects The baseline sample consisted of 51·9 % boys and the mean age was 10 (sd 0·4) years. During the first measurement year (2002), data on 1670 fifth graders were gathered. These measurements were repeated after 1 (n 1557), 2 (n 1151) and 3 (n 807) years.

Results Significant inverse relationships with BMI Z-score were observed for frequency of breakfast consumption (β = −0·033, se = 0·012) and frequency of sports participation (β = −0·011, se = 0·004) across four time points. Significant inverse relationships between changes in BMI Z-score and changes in frequency of sports participation (β = −0·011, se = 0·006) and hours of physical education (PE; β = −0·052, se = 0·023) were observed, meaning that decreases in sports participation and hours spent in PE were associated with increases in BMI Z-score.

Conclusions The present study provides an important insight into different dietary and PA behaviours related to (changes in) BMI Z-score during the transition from childhood to adolescence.

(Received February 2009)

(Accepted May 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email