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Hong Kong kids would be left gasping in a global children’s race, study shows

Hong Kong children would place in the bottom third of a foot race involving children from all over the world – well behind those from China – according to a study of the aerobic fitness levels of children from 50 countries and territories.

“If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race, the average Hong Kong child would finish in the bottom half of the field, placed 38 out of 50,” says the study’s senior author, Grant Tomkinson, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of North Dakota College of Education Human Development. “This study is the largest of its kind, so it’s exciting to have this evidence at hand.”

Children from Tanzania, Iceland, Estonia, Norway, and Japan, in that order, fill the top five places in the study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine .

Those from Canada rank 19th, Chinese children 25th, and those from Australia 35th. South Korean children come 46th, those from the United States 47th, and Mexican children come last.

The rankings were based on analysis of data from an exercise test called the 20-metre shuttle, or beep test, involving 1.1 million children aged nine to 17 from 50 countries and territories. The beep test is the most popular field-based test of aerobic fitness in children and young adults. It is a standard test in common use around the world.

“Kids who are aerobically fit tend to be healthy; and kids who are healthy are apt to be healthy adults. So studying aerobic fitness in the early years is very insightful to overall population health,” says Tomkinson. “It’s important to know how kids in Hong Kong fare on the world stage, for example, because we can always learn from other countries with fitter kids.”

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Another key finding of the study is that income inequality – the gap between rich and poor as measured by the Gini coefficient – is strongly correlated with aerobic fitness. Children and young adults from countries with a small gap between rich and poor appear to have better fitness.

Tomkinson’s international research team included experts from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and University of Montreal in Canada, and the University of South Australia.