In the quest to stave off childhood obesity, schools may want to modify traditional physical education classes to be more fitness and lifestyle oriented. That’s the take-home message that a recent study imparted in the October issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (2005;159, 963–68).
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wanted to know whether a fitness program could improve body composition, cardiovascular fitness and insulin sensitivity in overweight middle-school children. The controlled trial included 50 overweight kids, who were randomized to lifestyle-focused, fitness-oriented gym classes or “standard” gym classes for 9 months. The children’s fasting insulin and glucose levels and body composition were checked at the beginning and ending of the school year. Researchers also conducted VO2max treadmill tests. There were no differences in age, body mass index (BMI) or sex distribution between the groups at baseline.
The fitness-oriented classes were smaller and used treadmills and other types of equipment, while the standard classes focused more on team sports, according to an article written by Christine Kilgore in the August issue of Pediatric News. The American Medical Association reported that the fitness classes made exercise and nutrition “fun and achievable,” and the limited class size (14 students) freed time for movement and more instructor attention.
Study authors concluded that “children enrolled in fitness-oriented gym classes showed greater loss of body fat, increase in cardiovascular fitness and improvement in fasting insulin levels than control subjects. These findings should help to encourage . . . physical education programs that are effective in providing children with substantial amounts of physical activity.”