July 23, 2005

Putting Fun into Fitness Helps Kids Stay Healthy

NEW YORK -- Fun exercise such as dance and martial arts, along with interesting preparations of healthy foods, help kids eat well and stay fit, according to a review of 22 studies.

However, children who followed diet and exercise interventions did not lose a significant amount of weight. Still, most of the studies lasted a year or less, and with more time, kids might shed more pounds, the authors note.

"If those children could sustain the changes in food and physical activity then that would make a difference in the long term," study author Dr. Carolyn Summerbell of the University of Teesside, UK, said in a statement.

The researcher added that children respond to interventions that make diet and exercise fun, perhaps by creating healthy eating clubs, or preparing foods in interesting ways.

"The standard boring vegetables, your boiled cabbage, is like circuit training." Summerbell noted. "You need to think how a young mind works. A stir-fry and a dance class is great."

For the review, published in the Cochrane Library, Summerbell and her colleagues examined 22 studies involving 10,000 children from all corners of the globe. The studies looked at the effects of school-based diet and exercise programs, as well as programs that were community- and family-based.

Ten studies lasted at least 12 months, while 12 other reports followed children for between 12 weeks and 12 months.

"Nearly all" of the studies showed some improvements in children's diet or physical activity over the course of the intervention, the authors note.

Still, Summerbell noted that diet and exercise interventions are "just a drop in the ocean" among all the factors that influence kids' health.

Consequently, she recommended integrating healthy habits with activities kids enjoy but do little for their waistlines, such as TV and video games.

"It's important to build in time that children can do that...and also to build in some time when they can do really fun things around physical activity," she said.

SOURCE: The Cochrane Library, July 2005.