The Impact of Obesity and Sedentary Lifestyles on Children's Overall Health

Several new studies from the Medical College of Georgia examine the role that a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight can have on a child's health.

Dr. Catherine L. Davis, clinical health psychologist at the Medical College of Georgia’s Georgia Prevention Institute, recently completed several studies that examine the impact of being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle on a child’s health.

In the most recent step of her research, Davis and members of her research team used a non-invasive measure of pulse wave velocity that determined that children with a greater body mass index (BMI), more body fat, and less endurance had stiffer central arteries than leaner and fitter children. This particular study examined overweight or obese 8-11-year-old children, half of whom participated in aerobic exercises such as jumping rope and playing basketball weekdays after school, while the other half participated in sedentary activities, including board games and crafts. The results of this most recent study were presented at the 31st Annual Society of Behavioral Medicine Meeting.

In a separate study that examined a similar group of children, Davis found that regular exercise decreases the metabolic risk factors that are related to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

"It's essentially another aspect of the metabolic imbalance these children are experiencing when they're overweight and inactive and is a signal they're at very high risk for diabetes," Davis said.

Another study Davis performed revealed that exercise reduces inflammation, visceral fat, body mass index, and insulin levels. In that study, children who participated in 20-40 minutes of daily aerobic exercise for 12 weeks improved on nearly all of these measures. Her next study involves examining the impact of exercise on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and atherosclerosis.

"When children at such a young age start getting diseases only adults used to get, it's like the sky is falling," Davis said, adding that she hopes her research “will encourage programs to keep children active and hold lifestyle-related diseases at bay.”