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The recovery of European society in the future will depend heavily on how fit European youth will be

Publish Date: 26.04.2023

Category: Our contribution to sustainable development goals

Sustainable development goals: 3 Good health and well-being (Indicators)

FitBack - an interactive, evidence-based, multilingual and free-access platform for testing and interpretation of fitness in youth can radically contribute to the post-coronavirus recovery of European and world-wide society.

Europe is facing a series of challenges for which we do not have effective solutions yet. And when searching for them, we (too) often act only as firemen, instead of responding timely and in a correct manner. But for this, above all, we must be healthy, fit and with enough energy to combat with future challenges.

At this end, European political decision-makers should be greatly concerned. The fact is that young people have not been physically active enough to maintain their healthy physical, cognitive and mental development. As a result, their physical fitness, which is a powerful indicator of general health and their mental abilities, also declines. And the COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the situation.

To support improvement of youth fitness and awareness of its importance for policy makers, a group of European researchers, led by prof. dr. Gregor Jurak from University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), developed a web-based, open-access, multilingual platform FitBack that provides individualised reports on fitness levels in children and adolescents according to pan-European reference values and health-related cut-points.

FitBack interactive reports base on comprehensive study of fitness of children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 18, named European fitness landscape for children and adolescents: updated reference values, fitness maps and country rankings based on nearly 8 million test results from 34 countries gathered by the FitBack network , recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.


What have researchers found?

With nearly 8 million test results from 34 European countries, which are the foundation of the FitBack platform, this study provides the most up-to-date and comprehensive reference values and corresponding percentile curves for the health-related fitness of children and adolescents at all school ages from 6 to 18 years. And so, enables comparison with other European peers as well as with the health risk arising from the result for the first time.

Interestingly, the Northern (Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway) and Central Eastern European countries (Slovenia, Czech Republic and Slovakia) have the fittest children and adolescents, whereas Southern European countries (Spain, Italy and Greece) and the United Kingdom are comparatively less fit. Finally, the study found that despite cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength being different fitness components, countries having higher CRF levels generally also had higher muscular strength levels.

The purpose of research was to provide tools for use by PE teachers, coaches, health professionals and policymakers across Europe to examine current negative health trends, the effects of physical activity interventions and national policies to promote regular physical activity and healthy lifestyles in children at local, regional, national and European levels.

Why are the results so important?

Fitness is a powerful indicator of the overall health and cognitive abilities of our youth. Therefore, it is recommended to monitor it both at the level of the individual and the population. Slovenia is one of the few countries that, with the SLOfit system, has insight into the trends in the fitness of young people. Most other countries rely only on sporadic more or less good data on selected samples.

Therefore a web-based, open-access and multilingual online platform FitBack provides: 1) teachers and coaches individualised reports on fitness levels in children and adolescents according to pan-European reference values and health-related cut-points and 2) to political decision-makers key information for the development of physical performance monitoring systems at the local, regional or national level.

"The practical value of the findings of this study is extraordinary. The web-based, open-access and multilingual fitness platform allows the results of fitness testing to be immediately and interactively interpreted based on sex- and age-specific reference values. Thus, the user enters data into the online form and feedback is immediately displayed, e.g. how his/her strength compares to his/her European peers and what health risk comes from this result. The report is supported by user-friendly visual feedback and tips for improvement," explains dr. Jurak.

The FitBack application represents a big step forward in the implementation of fitness monitoring across Europe as an educational tool for physical literacy, i.e. a process that enables lifelong engagement with the movement for health and well-being.




Figure 2: Graphical elements of the FitBack platform for assessing and interpreting the physical fitness of young people, available at:

How did the research go?

The FitBack consortium collected the largest and most recent datasets in paediatric fitness across Europe, including massive datasets from existing surveillance systems such as SLOfit, NETFIT and Fitscola. For inclusion, valid data on sex, age and at least one of the ALPHA fitness tests (high-priority version) was required. All these sources were used for generating the reference values tables and curves, as well as a visual and interactive mapping of the European fitness landscape.

European fitness maps for cardiorespiratory and muscular strength in children and adolescents:


Figure 3: EU cardiorespiratory fitness landscape (20-m shuttle run test)



Figure 4: EU muscular strength landscape (Handgrip test)



Figure 5: EU muscular strength landscape (Standing long jump test)

Since some countries have more representative fitness data than others, all country comparisons should be taken cautiously and should be revisited when better fitness data are accumulated in certain European countries.


 Figure 6: Country average ranking in muscular strength and cardiorespiratory fitness in European children and adolescents. 

Significance of research findings for further research, policy formulation and intervention practices

  • The present research and the online FitBack platform provide a valuable and cost-effective solution for establishing fitness assessment at      the school and/or sports settings. Countries out of Europe could use this tool as well until they develop their own country or continent-specific platforms.
  • Fitness monitoring is part of the education systems in many countries, and the FitBack platform offers physical education teachers across Europe an easy-to-use tool for interpreting fitness test results according to gender and age, and at the same time comparing them with European peers.
  • From a health perspective, the updated reference values can help to identify youth with low physical fitness and consequently poorer health, who should be directed to intervention programs to increase fitness.
  • On the other hand, they can also help to identify young individuals with certain outstanding components of physical fitness.

Prof. dr. Gregor Jurak , the lead author of the research, is included in the list of the World's Top 2% Scientists 2021 of Stanford University or on the so-called Elsevier world ranking of the most cited scientists and researchers in 2022. As a full professor at the Faculty of Sports of the University of Ljubljana, he also leads the SLOfit research group, which for the SLOfit project - lifelong monitoring of physical performance, was selected by an expert jury winner of the FIRST E+ SPORT AWARD 2022 - #BeActive - Across generations award, dedicated to awarding projects that promote a healthy lifestyle in all life stages.

 The first author of the research is dr. Francisco B. Ortega , also one of the world's most cited fitness researchers, studies how the brains of fit individuals differ from those of lower performers. Ortega is co-Director of the PROFITH Research group at the Department of Physical Education and Sports, Faculty of Sports Sciences, University of Granada Spain. 


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