Scottish children and young people are being encouraged to step away from their smartphones, get off the couch and start doing press-ups in a bid to tackle obesity.
A new study from the universities of Edinburgh and Dundee shows that strength-based exercises, such as squats and lunges, could play a key role in helping youngsters lose weight. Taking part in exercises that cause muscles to contract and strengthen was found to reduce children’s overall body fat percentage.
The researchers examined the findings from a number of studies that explored effects of resistance training on body weight for children aged nine to 16 years. They found this form of exercise decreased body fat, but had no overall effect on other measures, including lean muscle mass, body mass index and waist circumference. This is the most extensive review so far of resistance training’s impact on young people. The findings also suggests an increase in muscle mass, gained from strength-based exercises, could help boost their metabolism and energy levels.
The effects were small but meaningful, prompting calls for further research to investigate how resistance training could treat and prevent the growing issue of child obesity.
Earlier this year First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set a new target to cut child obesity in Scotland by half by 2030.
At present, 29 per cent of Scottish children are at risk of being overweight, and 14 per cent are at risk of being obese.Children from deprived areas are nearly twice as likely to be obese, with levels among Scots largely unchanged over the last decade.
Helen Collins, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh and a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Dundee, said the results show the positive effect resistance training can have on maintaining a healthy weight and reducing body fat for young people.
She added: “Treatment, and more importantly, prevention, of child obesity is a growing concern.
“Our findings highlight the need for more robust research into the role strength-based exercises can play in helping everyone make healthy life choices and be more physically active.”
Research from 18 studies across eight countries was examined in the research paper including the US, Australia, and Japan.
Dr Niall Elliot, head of sports medicine at sportscotland’s institute of sport and a former Team GB chief medical officer welcomed the move.
He said: “I think with the right advice and guidance then any movement based exercise is good for health.
“A lot of the research done in Dundee is looking at improving movement competencies within children.
“One of the areas that we’re really keen to introduce at school level like the Daily Mile is giving children physical literacy throughout their lives and if you can ingrain this at a younger age then it’s better.
“We know that cardiovascular based exercises have an overall improvement in cardiac fitness but we also know that strength-based exercises also have a health benefit in terms of skeletal growth.
“Over-loading can be a bit of an issue –but supervised and with the right guidance we shouldn’t be scared of it –we should be encouraging a whole host of different type of exercises of which weight training is one.”