After-school exercise helps overweight girls

Two-years of after-school physical activity helped lessen the number of overweight and obese fourth- and fifth-grade girls, but not boys, and led to declines in cholesterol levels in girls and boys, report researchers from Spain.

This suggests that Spanish children, who are among the most overweight in the world, generally benefit from supervised physical activity beyond that obtained in physical education class, Dr. Vicente Martinez-Vizcaino, at the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca, and colleagues report in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Beginning in September 2004, 10 schools in the Cuenca region of Spain participated in the so-called MOVI program - 90 minutes of after-school games, dance, or sports such as soccer and basketball 3 days a week.

Two school years later, at the end of June 2006, 190 of the original 234 boys and 185 of the original 231 girls were still participating.

The researchers compared before and after body weight and fat, and blood fat measures in these students as well as those of over 500 same-age students from 10 other area schools that did not follow the MOVI program.

Initially, 32 percent of the active and 29 percent of the inactive girls were overweight or obese. Two years later just 26 percent of the active girls (MOVI participants) versus 27 percent of the inactive (control) girls remained so.

Among boys, 30 percent of the active and 33 percent of the inactive boys started out overweight or obese. Two-years later 28 and 32 percent remained so.

During the study period both active and inactive girls showed an overall decline in body fat. By contrast, the active boys showed a slight gain in body fat, while this measure remained relatively stable in less active boys.

While the researchers are not exactly sure why the boys did not seem to benefit as much as the girls, they speculate that boys may be generally more active than girls. They also suspect wide public interest in the MOVI program caused many non-participating schools to offer after-school physical activity programs of their own during the second year.

Participation in the MOVI program also had positive effects on cholesterol levels. Total cholesterol levels fell an average of nearly 7 points in active versus inactive girls and by more than 4 points in active versus inactive boys.

Due to the overall interest in and satisfaction with the MOVI program, the researchers think it would be worthwhile to continue the program and expand it.

SOURCE: The Journal of Pediatrics, published online March 15, 2010

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