It's clear that activity is good for kids, lead
author Naiman A. Khan told Reuters Health. But he was surprised at
just how much of a difference this program made.
"We saw their overall body fat, abdominal fat go down, and in the
absence of the program kids actually increased in overall body fat,"
said Khan, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
For their study, the researchers randomly divided 220 kids ages
eight and nine into two groups. One group participated in the
FITKids program, which includes 70 minutes of moderate to vigorous
physical activity five times per week for nine months, and the other
group did not.
In the exercise group, kids did 20 to 25 minutes of health-related
fitness activities plus 50 minutes of organized noncompetitive games
meant to keep their hearts beating at 55 to 80 percent of their
maximum heart rate.
That's higher than most previous exercise studies have aimed for,
which may be why this study got such good results, according to
Dianne Stanton Ward of the University of North Carolina Gillings
School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill.
Ward studies obesity prevention in children. She was not involved in
the new research.
During exercise, kids wore heart rate watches so the researchers
could monitor their activity levels.
After nine months, the kids in the exercise group had lost an
average of close to one percent of their total body fat and more
than one percent of the fat around their belly area, as reported in
Both kids who were a healthy weight and overweight or obese kids
lost fat mass, but overweight or obese kids tended to lose a bit
more relative to their starting size.
Kids in the comparison group gained a small amount of fat over the
nine-month period, and didn't get any more or less fit.
The researchers "did a lot of things right in this study," including
measuring physical fitness as well as body composition, Ward told
Reuters Health. The results indicate that staying active at this age
influences the development of body fat and produces measurable
changes in physical fitness.
"And the kids must have had fun, because they didn't have to do
this," she said, noting that few kids skipped days of the program.
[to top of second column]
"It doesn't really matter the particulars of what the kids are
doing as long as they get up to a moderate or vigorous heart rate,"
Better fitness means a healthier heart and increased bone
density, too, she said.
"As kids move up from the pre-pubertal age, sedentary pursuits often
take over and their willingness to be involved in active pursuits is
reduced," she said. That can lead to greater weight gain later on.
It would be reasonable for policymakers to put more emphasis on
physical education (PE) classes or for more after-school programs to
make time for physical activity, she said.
"The recommendation is that children get at least 60 minutes of
activity per day, but those don't have to occur at the same time,"
Khan said. "It could be incorporated throughout the school day."
The curriculum used to develop the FITKids program was originally
designed for use in PE classes, Ward noted.
FITKids has been available for kids in Illinois for six years and is
still an option for kids in that area. There are likely similar
after-school options in other areas of the country, Khan said.
"We know children are getting less and less activity in school,"
Khan said. But no matter where it happens, he added, "Providing
children with opportunities to be physically active is beneficial to
Pediatrics, online March 31, 2014.
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.