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Relationship between self-reported dietary intake and physical activity levels among adolescents: The HELENA study

Charlene Ottevaere1*, Inge Huybrechts1, Laurent Béghin23, Magdalena Cuenca-Garcia4, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij5, Frederic Gottrand2, Maria Hagströmer6, Anthony Kafatos7, Cinzia Le Donne8, Luis A Moreno9, Michael Sjöström6, Kurt Widhalm10, Stefaan De Henauw1 and HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) Study Group

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

2 Inserm U955, IFR114/IMPRT, Faculty of Medicine, University Lille 2, F-59037 Lille, France

3 CIC-9301-CH&U-Inserm of Lille, CHRU de Lille, F-59037 Lille, France

4 Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, Granada, Spain

5 Department of Movement and Sport Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

6 Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

7 University of Crete School of medicine, Greece

8 National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition, Rome, Italy

9 Growth, Exercise, Nutrition and Development (GENUD) research Group, E.U. Ciencias de la Salud, Universidad de Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Spain

10 Medical University of Vienna, Austria

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:8  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-8

Published: 6 February 2011



Evidence suggests possible synergetic effects of multiple lifestyle behaviors on health risks like obesity and other health outcomes. Therefore it is important to investigate associations between dietary and physical activity behavior, the two most important lifestyle behaviors influencing our energy balance and body composition. The objective of the present study is to describe the relationship between energy, nutrient and food intake and the physical activity level among a large group of European adolescents.


The study comprised a total of 2176 adolescents (46.2% male) from ten European cities participating in the HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) study. Dietary intake and physical activity were assessed using validated 24-h dietary recalls and self-reported questionnaires respectively. Analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) were used to compare the energy and nutrient intake and the food consumption between groups of adolescents with different physical activity levels (1st to 3rd tertile).


In both sexes no differences were found in energy intake between the levels of physical activity. The most active males showed a higher intake of polysaccharides, protein, water and vitamin C and a lower intake of saccharides compared to less active males. Females with the highest physical activity level consumed more polysaccharides compared to their least active peers. Male and female adolescents with the highest physical activity levels, consumed more fruit and milk products and less cheese compared to the least active adolescents. The most active males showed higher intakes of vegetables and meat, fish, eggs, meat substitutes and vegetarian products compared to the least active ones. The least active males reported the highest consumption of grain products and potatoes. Within the female group, significantly lower intakes of bread and cereal products and spreads were found for those reporting to spend most time in moderate to vigorous physical activity. The consumption of foods from the remaining food groups, did not differ between the physical activity levels in both sexes.


It can be concluded that dietary habits diverge between adolescents with different self-reported physical activity levels. For some food groups a difference in intake could be found, which were reflected in differences in some nutrient intakes. It can also be concluded that physically active adolescents are not always inclined to eat healthier diets than their less active peers.