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HEALTH

Norwegian kids are fourth fittest in the world

In a study comparing the fitness levels of children in 50 different nations, Norway was topped by only three countries.

Norwegian kids are fourth fittest in the world
Norwegian children warm up for a kids' marathon in Oslo. Photo: Berit Roald / Scanpix
Norwegian kids ranked fourth in a study conducted by the University of North Dakota (UND) and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario that examined the aerobic fitness levels of children and youth. The study centred around the so-called beep test, a 20-metre shuttle run that is among the most commonly used fitness indicators in the world. 
 
Some 1.1 million kids between the ages of nine and 17 had their beep test results analyzed to draw conclusions about children’s fitness levels in the 50 countries examined. 
 
“If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race, the average Norwegian child would finish at the front of the pack, placed fourth out of 50,” Grant Tomkinson, the senior author of the study, told The Local. 
 
Tomkinson, an associate professor of kinesiology at the UND College of Education & Human Development and senior author of the study, said that the children’s aerobic fitness results are “very insightful to overall population health” but acknowledged that the results don’t necessarily paint a complete picture. 
 
“We didn’t have good international data on diet,” he said. “Because we examined between-country differences in fitness we were interested in broad socio-economic correlates. Obesity was a weak negative correlate with fitness in developed countries (fatter countries fared worse), climate was a strong positive correlate in developed countries (hotter countries fared better), and income inequality was a strong negative correlate in developed countries (more equal countries fared better).”
 
Norway was topped only by Tanzania, Iceland and Estonia. Norway’s southern neighbour Denmark ranked sixth while Sweden was in the middle of the pack at 26th. 
 
The United States placed near the very bottom at number 47 out of 50 and Tomkinson said that the strong overall performance of Nordic countries was interesting from an American point of view “because we can always learn from countries with fit kids”. 
 
“We know that Scandinavian countries have very good physical activity infrastructure and government strategies and investments, as does the US, but poor overall physical activity levels, also like the US, despite having better participation rates in organized sport and active transportation like cycling or walking to and from school than the US,” he told The Local. 
 
“They are also leaner that US kids which means it is easier for them to move their body through space and run over long distances,” he added. 
 
The results of the study, which Tomkinson said is the largest of its kind, were recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges on Thursday dismissed legal challenges to Italy's vaccine mandate as "inadmissible” and “unfounded”, as 1.9 million people face fines for refusing the jab.

Italy's constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges were asked this week to determine whether or not vaccine mandates introduced by the previous government during the pandemic – which applied to healthcare and school staff as well as over-50s – breached the fundamental rights set out by Italy’s constitution.

Italy became the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

The Constitutional Court upheld the law in a ruling published on Thursday, saying it considered the government’s requirement for healthcare personnel to be vaccinated during the pandemic period neither unreasonable nor disproportionate.

Judges ruled other questions around the issue as inadmissible “for procedural reasons”, according to a court statement published on Thursday.

This was the first time the Italian Constitutional Court had ruled on the issue, after several regional courts previously dismissed challenges to the vaccine obligation on constitutional grounds.

A patient being administered a Covid jab.

Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

One Lazio regional administrative court ruled in March 2022 that the question of constitutional compatibility was “manifestly unfounded”.

Such appeals usually centre on the question of whether the vaccine requirement can be justified in order to protect the ‘right to health’ as enshrined in the Italian Constitution.

READ ALSO: Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Meanwhile, fines kicked in from Thursday, December 1st, for almost two million people in Italy who were required to get vaccinated under the mandate but refused.

This includes teachers, law enforcement and healthcare workers, and the over 50s, who face fines of 100 euros each under rules introduced in 2021.

Thursday was the deadline to justify non-compliance with the vaccination mandate due to health reasons, such as having contracted Covid during that period.

Italy’s health minister on Friday however appeared to suggest that the new government may choose not to enforce the fines.

“It could cost more for the state to collect the fines” than the resulting income, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci told Radio Rai 1.

He went on to say that it was a matter for the Economy and Finance Ministry, but suggested that the government was drawing up an amendment to the existing law.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

The League, one of the parties which comprises the new hard-right government, is pushing for fines for over-50s to be postponed until June 30th 2023.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had promised a clear break with her predecessor’s health policies, after her Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic in 2021 when it was in opposition.

At the end of October, shortly after taking office, the new government allowed doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work earlier than planned after being suspended for refusing the Covid vaccine.

There has been uncertainty about the new government’s stance after the deputy health minister in November cast doubt on the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, saying he was “not for or against” vaccination.

Italy’s health ministry continues to advise people in at-risk groups to get a booster jab this winter, and this week stressed in social media posts that vaccination against Covid-19 and seasonal flu remained “the most effective way to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially the elderly and frail”.

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