The rising numbers of overweight and obese children is of great concern. Obesity threatens the child's quality of life both in the present and for the future. Health problems that were once considered to occur only in adulthood, such as type II diabetes and high blood pressure, are showing up in overweight and obese children. Furthermore, individuals who are obese in childhood tend to become obese adults.
Improving diet along with increasing levels of physical activity can lead to weight loss and better health for the overweight/obese child. Aerobic exercise programs, however, may not be well-tolerated by this population, thereby interfering with compliance. Factors that contribute to poor tolerance for the overweight/obese child include: increased thermal stress during the activity due to the excess body weight, increased risk of musculoskeletal injury, increased intensity of weight-bearing exercise as a result of having to "carry" the extra weight compared to their leaner peers, and a greater perceived level of difficulty of exercise due to the latter.
Strength training has been suggested as an alternative to traditional aerobic exercise interventions for the overweight/obese child. One reason is that these children tend to have greater strength due to their larger body mass than their leaner counterparts. This ability can boost the overweight/obese child's self-confidence, enhancing compliance to the resistance training program.
To determine if resistance training is in fact an acceptable alternative to aerobic exercise interventions for the overweight/obese child, McGuigan et al. conducted a study which was published in the January 2009 issue of Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that looked at the role resistance training played in altering body composition in this population. Children who were between the ages of 7-12 years and classified as either being overweight or obese by means of Body Mass Index (BMI) values participated in an 8-week resistance training program. Dietary and physical activity levels, body composition, strength, power, and muscular endurance were measured at baseline and at the end of the 8-week program.
The researchers found that a significant decrease in absolute body fat percentage (2.6%) and a significant increase in lean body mass (5.3%) occurred as a result of the 8-week resistance training program. The subjects also experienced significant improvements in their levels of strength and power. No subjects complained of muscle soreness or injury as a result of participating in the strength training program, suggesting that the subjects tolerated the activity well.
The researchers concluded that participation in a resistance training regimen is an acceptable alternative to aerobic-based exercise programs for children who are overweight or obese. Such a program not only improves body composition, strength, and power in this population, but may yield a greater compliance rate because it is tolerated well and can have a positive effect on self-esteem.
There are some safety issues to consider before initiating a strength training program for the overweight/obese child. First, it is imperative that the child receive proper instruction and supervision while performing strength training exercises, preferably from a qualified fitness professional. Second, the child should use equipment that properly fits his/her body size to ensure proper form is maintained throughout the activity. Third, it is recommended that the program include 8-15 repetitions of moderate-intensity for 1-3 sets of each exercise. Following these safety precautions can reduce the risk of injury.
Note: Before beginning an exercise program, your child should have a physician's approval, especially if your child is overweight/obese or has been diagnosed with a condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning, vol. 23(1), January 2009, pp. 80-85, "Eight Weeks of Resistance Training Can Significantly Alter Body Composition in Children Who Are Overweight or Obese," McGuigan, M., Tatasciore, M., Newton, R., Pettigrew, S.
ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, Sixth Edition
Labels: children, exercise, obesity, overweight, strength training