It is widely believed that children in affluent countries are less fit than their counterparts elsewhere. To test this
hypothesis, this study meta-analysed the results of 82 reports of the performance of children and adolescents aged 6-19
years on the 20 m shuttle run test (20mSRT). The studies came from 34 countries and included data on 256,834
children. All data were collected in the period 1981-2000.
Following corrections for methodological variation, the results of all studies were expressed using the common metric
of running speed (km.h-1) at the final completed stage. Raw data were combined with pseudodata generated from
reported means and SDs using Monte Carlo simulation. An overall performance index was derived for each country by
first adjusting the running speeds for year of testing (given that secular declines had occurred), and then calculating
sample-weighted z-scores relative to all children of the same age and gender.
There was considerable variation in performance between countries. Northern European nations (Iceland, Estonia,
Finland, Lithuania and Denmark) were consistently 0.5-1 SDs above the overall mean, while Mediterranean (Spain,
Italy, Greece) and developed Pacific rim countries (USA, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong) were generally 0.1-0.7
SDs below the overall mean (see Figure 1).
Worldwide variation in performance in this sample is large, and unrelated to per capita Gross Domestic Product and to
Olympic performance, but is significantly related to equality in income distribution, at least in developed countries.
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