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New gym program helps children lose weight

A fitness-oriented gym class helps overweight kids lose body fat and build cardiovascular fitness, a new study shows.
/ Source: Reuters

A fitness-oriented gym class helps overweight kids lose body fat and build cardiovascular fitness, a new study shows.

Children participating in the 45-minute class also improved their levels of the key blood-sugar-regulating hormone insulin, which translates to a reduced diabetes risk, according to the report in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

The program focused on these factors, which appear to be a better indicator than weight loss of future health, lead author Dr. Aaron L. Carrel of the University of Wisconsin Children’s Hospital in Madison told Reuters Health.

“Most studies really don’t focus on these more precise measurements ... and I think there’s a lot of medical evidence that says cardiovascular fitness is really linked with long term health,” Carrel said.

Carrel and his team worked with teachers and staff at a local school to develop the fitness program. To increase the amount of time spent in action during the class, children did not change clothes, and began warm-up immediately. Kids were active for 42 of the 45 classroom minutes. Activities included lifestyle-focused activities like bicycling and walking. Classes were small, with 12 to 14 kids each.

The researchers divided 55 overweight kids into two groups, with one participating in traditional gym class and the other in the new class. In the regular gym class, which included 35 to 40 students, Carrel and his team note, kids spent only about 25 minutes on the move.

After nine months of the gym class, which students took five times every two weeks, the children in the revamped class showed a 4 percent reduction in body fat compared to a 2 percent drop for kids in the traditional class.

Students participating in the new class also showed greater improvements on a treadmill test of cardiovascular health, and a larger drop in fasting insulin levels. “All of these were clinically significant,” Carrel said.

One reason for the success of the new program, Carrel said, may have been that it leveled the playing field by including kids who were all overweight and at similar fitness levels. In regular gym, he noted, it’s often the same handful of fit, fast kids getting all the exercise while the less-fit kids wait on the sidelines.

“I think there really was a little bit more of support and encouragement for the kids,” he said. “I think that did have an impact.”

Carrel said he thinks any school could easily adapt the program. “The school really came up with so much of the curriculum on their own,” he said, noting that he and his university colleagues simply performed the measurements to gauge the program’s success.

“The school community, kids, teachers, families, local pediatricians, really got behind this when we started,” Carrel said. “I think this can really be an empowering sort of change, in a sense one community or one school at a time.”

Enhanced physical activity is a key component of any program designed to treat obesity in young people, Dr. Oded Bar-Or of the Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Center in Hamilton, Ontario writes in an editorial accompanying the study.

He advises pediatricians to suggest a 30-minute reduction in computer or TV time for their overweight patients, accompanied by an addition of 30 minutes of physical activity. “The detailed content of the added activity-preferably outdoors-is not important, as long as the child moves from one place to another and, especially, finds it FUN,” he concludes.