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'Weedy' teen boys have 'higher risk of early death'

“Muscular young men may live longer” reports BBC News, while conversely, stating those with weaker muscles ‘were at increased risk of early death'.

This headline comes from a long-term, Swedish study of over a million male adolescents (aged 16-19 years). It found an association between decreased muscular strength in adolescence and increased risk of premature mortality from any cause. The same link was also found for deaths from cardiovascular disease and suicide, but not for cancer.

While the link between low levels of physical fitness and increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease may seem self-evident, the increased risk of suicide is not.

The researchers offer a number of unsubstantiated theories about the association between muscle strength and suicide risk. Teenagers with low muscle strength may have poor self-esteem, which could impact on their mental health. This was just a theory and was not verified in the study.

The researchers point out that this could be a case of ‘reverse causation’ (rather than ‘cause and effect’ this may be ‘effect and cause’). In this case, the explanation could be that adolescents with mental health problems which make them more likely to commit suicide in later life, may be less likely to be physical active and so have weaker muscles.

A significant limitation of the study was that it did not account for physical activity levels, diet, lifestyle factors (such as smoking), or measure general health and wellbeing. Consequently, the measure of physical strength may have been an indirect indicator of general physical fitness.

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