Six Weeks to A Slimmer Youth
- In a Chinese study of a six-week diet/exercise program, researchers saw reduced metabolic syndrome risks in obese adolescents.
- In a North Carolina study, children experienced numerous health benefits after a school year of increased physical activity.
Health benefits of the 2013 studies included lower blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced body fat, increased muscle strength, and reduced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other metabolic and lifestyle-related disorders.
The data from both studies were compiled by the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory at the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis, N.C., led by David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science.
In the Shanghai University study, co-authored by Nieman, 200 obese children were split into two groups. One group took part in a summer camp where they exercised three hours each morning and afternoon. The second group continued with their normal lives. Both groups maintained a consistent caloric intake, but the average summer camp child lost 13 to 17 pounds. "Their blood pressure went down and insulin sensitivity improved. They were able to handle their glucose better. They had a reduction in total cholesterol," Nieman reported. "So the overall metabolic health of these children improved in just six weeks."
In the North Carolina study, Nieman's laboratory tested 482 students with an average age of 13 using a battery of physical fitness tests at the beginning and end of the school year. Nearly half of the boys and four in 10 girls were overweight or obese. Nieman's team measured body composition, muscular strength and aerobic/anaerobic fitness. Over the course of the program, the test scores showed a reduction in body fat, improved strength and overall physical health gains.
"The scores on all of the tests indicated that obesity at such a young age is already impacting the health and physical well-being of these children," Nieman said. "The good news is that most children, when they get properly supervised physical activity, whether it is organized sports or an old fashioned playtime, are very happy to continue it, and they benefit from it in terms of improved health."
Reena John, MPH, senior program officer for First 5 LA's Program Development Department, noted: "While these two recent studies focused on older children, a 2008 First 5 LA-funded pilot study suggests that the health benefits of exercise and good nutrition can be successfully nurtured even at a very young age." The study tested the efficacy of a nutrition and physical activity resource kit that was developed by Sesame Street for child care providers. Following a two-month intervention, John said, "Providers of (services to) children up to age 5 reported not only a personal benefit - increases in nutrition knowledge - but also more discussions with the children in their care about health and engagement in physical activity, and even an increase in the children's levels of physical activity and knowledge of healthy food choices."
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