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The Effects of Exercise Interventions in High Risk Youth
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity in children has more than tripled over the last 30 years, and in 2008 more than 1/3 of American kids were considered overweight or obese.1,2 Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. As they get older, obese adolescents are more likely to be pre-diabetic, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes. Children and adolescents who are obese are also more likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.3 With the rate of obesity increasing every year, it is important to get children to participate in exercise programs.
In a systematic review of the health benefits of physical activities on children and youth, measurements such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, insulin variables, and depression scores were examined. The subjects in most of the studies were considered high risk, which included obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol. The interventions from each study were divided into either aerobic or mostly anaerobic in nature. The anaerobic interventions included resistance training, circuit training, pilates, jumping exercises, and PE classes. For each of the measurements evaluated, there was a much higher percentage improvement in the interventions that used aerobic exercise.4
Based on these findings, resistance training and other exercises can be beneficial, but aerobic training appears to have a greater effect on improving health measures related to obesity and other similar conditions. One of the studies that showed significant improvement used only a total of 60 min/week of moderate to vigorous activity. This may show that even a small increase in activity can improve the health of high risk children.