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Eur J Public Health. 2006 Jun;16(3):332-6. Epub 2005 Sep 12.

Do adolescent leisure-time physical activities foster health and well-being in adulthood? Evidence from two British birth cohorts.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, UK. a.sacker@ucl.ac.uk



Calls for public health initiatives to increase adolescent leisure-time physical activity suggest that increasing activity in this age group will reduce social inequalities in health. While the public health benefits of exercise are undisputed, there is little evidence on its role in reducing health inequalities. The paper examines the extent to which adolescent leisure-time physical activity promotes adult health and well-being and explores whether adolescent leisure-time physical activity can act to reduce health inequalities arising from material deprivation during childhood.


This is a longitudinal study of the 1958 British birth cohort followed from age 16 to age 33 years (N = 15,452) and the 1970 British birth cohort followed to age 30 years (N = 14,018). Adult self-rated general health and Malaise Inventory scores are regressed on self-reports of leisure time physical activity. Analyses are conducted separately for men and women controlling for adolescent body mass index (BMI) and psychosocial problems.


There was a consistent relationship between leisure-time physical activity in adolescence and psychological well-being approximately 15 years later for both the cohorts. This relationship was independent of adolescent BMI and psychosocial problems. More physical activity in adolescence predicted better adult self-assessed health in the 1958 cohort only. Leisure-time physical activity did not affect inequalities in health.


Policies aimed at increasing participation in leisure-time physical activities in youth may improve population health but are unlikely to prevent the development of social inequalities in health.

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