This is the question asked by two of the articles in this week's issue of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. Dieter Leyk from German Sport University Cologne (Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln) and coauthors investigated the effects of unhealthy lifestyles on young people's fitness, Sabine Stamm-Balderjahn from Berlin's Charité, and her coauthors report a study investigating the effects of a hospital-based intervention program to prevent smoking in school students (Dtsch Arztebl Int 2012; 109(44): 737-45 und Dtsch Arztebl Int 2012; 109(44): 746-52).
Leyk et al. collected data from more than 8000 young people aged 10 to 25 with regard to their weight and smoking status, physical activity/exercise, and times achieved running a distance of 1000 meters and holding the chin-up position. They compared physical fitness in groups that differed by number of risk factors present, such as overweight, smoking, and lack of exercise. The presence of even one single risk factor was associated with notably worse performance. Comparison by age groups showed that 24- to 25-year-olds were at the same fitness level as 14- to 15-year-olds.
Stamm-Balderjahn investigated the effectiveness of the intervention program "Students in the Hospital" in 760 subjects. The interactive event aimed to provide information on health, individual, and societal aspects of smoking. Notably fewer students in the intervention group started smoking during the follow-up period (3.3%) than in the control group. The probability of remaining abstinent for students participating in the program was four times that of non-participants. A clear primary preventive effect was shown for the intervention program, but it did not prompt students who already smoked from continuing to do so.