|Arnhem Region practices before their final Darwin match. The 20-year study assessed the physical fitness of children from around the world. (105.7 ABC Darwin: Emilia Terzon)|
That is effectively the question at the centre of a global study looking at children's fitness.
Much of the world was represented in the study, including countries from Northern Europe, many African countries, Australia, the United Kingdom, many South American countries, as well as some Asian countries.
When the researchers previously published data in 2004, kids from Iceland were the fittest in the world, but they have since dropped into second place.
"We've got a new champion," said the study's co-author, Professor Tim Olds from the University of South Australia.
"The fittest kids in the world are from Tanzania, followed by Iceland, Estonia, Norway and Japan.
"And the least fit kids in the world are from Mexico, Peru, Latvia, the United States and Korea.
"And Australia comes pretty much in the middle, so actually ranked 35th out of 50 nations."The data was gathered over two decades using a standardised running-fitness test, known in Australia as the beep test.
"Your kids almost certainly have used it at school," Professor Olds said.
"It's a test where a kid's run 20 metres, a 20m shuttle run test back and forth at a faster and faster pace until they can't go on any further.
"And we can use the results of that to estimate what their maximum aerobic power would be and hence their running speed."It is a fairly simple method, but the results correlate closely with sophisticated laboratory tests.
"When you compare fitness estimated by the beep test with fitness estimated when people are running on a treadmill and they're hooked up to a gas analysis machine, the results are pretty much the same."Physical literacy 'the way of the future'
The researchers found there is a correlation between fitness and a country's socioeconomic status.
"What we found was, across all the countries there was an association, not a strong association, but an association nonetheless, between levels of fitness and inequality," Professor Olds said.
"So the more equal a country was the higher the level of fitness. That was the first thing we found.
"And secondly if you look at developed countries, the richer the country was the higher the level of fitness."Professor Olds argues that fitness is an important marker of future cardiovascular and metabolic health because it integrates a lot of different lifestyle aspects.
"For the last 15 to 20 years there's been no increase in the fatness of Australian children, it's still a very high level, but it's plateaued out.
"But I think what it tells us is we've really got to make big efforts to engage kids more in the kind of activities which build aerobic fitness, and that really means things like sports or quite intense activities."
Professor Olds is part of Active Healthy Kids Australia, an alliance of researchers from around Australia pushing for what they call "physical literacy".
"This is what kids need to be active in a way to increase their fitness," he said.
"They need motor skills, they need tools like bats and balls and things like that, and they need playgrounds, they need encouragement from their parents.
"So I think this physical literacy push is the way of the future."This research was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
- Source: www.abc.net.au