Cross-cultural comparisons of aerobic and muscular fitness in Tanzanian and English youth: An allometric approach
Public Library of Science (PLoS) -- PLOS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0211414

Comparisons of physical fitness measures between children or within group measures over time are potentially confounded by differences in body size. We compared measures of strength (handgrip) and aerobic fitness (running-speed [20m shuttle-run]) of 10.0–15.9 year-olds from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (n = 977) with schoolchildren from England (n = 1014) matched for age and sex. Differences in fitness were analyzed using general linear models, with allometric scaling for body size (mass and stature) and further adjustments for physical activity. Mean handgrip of Tanzanians was lower than English youth (F = 165.0, P<0.001, ηp2 = .079). The difference became trivial when run-speed was scaled for body size (ηp2 = .008). Running-speed of the English children was higher than in Tanzanians (F = 16.0, P<0.001, ηp2 = .014). Allometric scaling for accentuated this between-county difference in running-speed (ηp2 = .019) but when adjusted for physical activity between-country differences in running-speed were trivial (ηp2 = .008). These data contradict those studies showing poor muscular fitness in African youth and highlight the need for appropriate scaling techniques to avoid confounding by differences in body size. In contrast to those from rural areas, our sample of contemporary urban Tanzanians were less aerobically fit than European youth. Differences were independent of body size. Lower aerobic fitness of urban Tanzanian youth may be due to reported physical activity levels lower than those of English youth and lower still than previously reported in rural Tanzania.