Old Order Mennonite kids fitter than kids with contemporary lifestyle: study

Toronto, Canada - Old Order Mennonite children tend to be fitter, stronger and leaner than kids living a more contemporary Canadian lifestyle, a study has found.

Furthermore, the Mennonite youth have higher fitness levels despite having no physical education classes and not participating in organized sports, says the study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

The 2002 study, released Tuesday, found a strong link between contemporary lifestyles of Canadian children - both urban and rural - and reduced physical activity and fitness.

"What this study proves is that you don't need to do triathlons to stay fit and active," said lead author Mark Tremblay, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan.

"Children living traditional lifestyles have exercise embedded in their daily lives," Tremblay said in a CIHI release. "In contrast, today's children engage more in passive activities, such as video games. This may go a long way in explaining why they are less physically fit."

Researchers at the universities of Saskatchewan and Lethbridge found that Old Order Mennonite children, on average, do up to 18 minutes more moderate or vigorous physical activity a day than children who are raised outside the faith.

All else being equal, the researchers estimate that the extra activity translates into a caloric difference equivalent to more than 40 pounds of fat per person, per decade.

The Old Order Mennonite children in the study live near Mount Forest, Ont. They belong to a strict sect of the Mennonite faith in which modern conveniences such as TVs and telephones are restricted.

The study showed that the 124 Mennonite youths studied also had leaner triceps than urban Saskatchewan children; a greater aerobic fitness score than rural Saskatchewan children; and greater grip strength than both rural and urban Saskatchewan children. The findings applied to both girls and boys.

Researchers attribute the Mennonite children's strength and fitness to the amount of physical activity they get through everyday walking, farming activities and household chores.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information is a non-profit organization working to improve the health of Canadians by providing quality health information.