Childhood obesity, inactivity and poor food choices are taking a toll on today’s youth. In some cases, structured exercise is encouraged for weight management. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t seem to be working.

Researchers from Plymouth University and the University of Exeter, in England, found that adding extra fitness classes did not lead to any significant increase in weekly physical activity among young study subjects. The scientists analyzed data from 30 peer-reviewed clinical trials involving 14,326 participants aged 16 and younger. Each study included the use of an accelerometer.

“This systematic review found that physical activity interventions, on average, achieved small to negligible increases in children’s total activity volume, with small improvements in the time spent in moderate or vigorous intensity activity (~4 minutes more walking or running per day), the clinical effect of which is likely to be minimal,” the authors reported.

The authors could not specify reasons for these data. They did speculate that the quality and intensity of the exercise interventions may have been somewhat low, reducing their effectiveness. They also suggested that after-school interventions may have replaced time already spent being active.

Though this review found little evidence to suggest that organized exercise sessions improve childhood activity levels, the authors do believe there are upsides: “Organized physical activity may nevertheless still offer benefits such as improved coordination skills, greater self confidence, team participation and social inclusivity.”

The study was published in the British Medical Journal (2012; 345, e5888).

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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