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Weight Loss Found to Aid Child Health

April 21, 1996|IRA DREYFUSS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — Encouraging children to do aerobic exercise will help to keep them from having cholesterol problems, but only if the exercise makes them lose weight, a study indicates.

Fit children had better cholesterol levels than did unfit children, said the researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. But the unfit children also weighed more, and the fit kids' edge in cholesterol disappeared once researchers statistically took the weight differences into account, said the study in the American Journal of Public Health.

The findings help to clarify the role that exercise plays in cholesterol control, said researcher Larry A. Tucker. "The underlying factor seems to be how much fat the kids are carrying," said Tucker, a professor of physical education. "When they are physically active, they tend to be lean."

The researchers studied 162 boys and 100 girls, ages 9 and 10. The children's parents filled out a questionnaire to tell how much fat was in their children's diets.

The researchers tested the children's time on a one-mile walk-run. Using calipers, the scientists measured how much fat the children had at the abdomen, arm and calf.

The children also gave blood for cholesterol testing. Although cholesterol is rarely a major risk factor for children, other researchers have found young people with elevated cholesterol levels tend to mature into adults with cholesterol problems. "Children don't die of heart disease; it's almost unheard of," Tucker said. "But they become adults, and they die of heart disease."

Overall, 26.5% of the boys and 37% of the girls had cholesterol readings in the increased-risk group, the researchers found.

Children with the higher cholesterol levels tended to be the ones who did worse on the run-walk, the researchers found. And it was a clear, tight relationship, Tucker said.

"If your kid is below average in his ability to run a mile, he is more likely to have an unfavorable cholesterol profile," Tucker said. But the underlying problem is weight, he said.

"When they are physically active, they tend to be lean," Tucker said. "And the same could be said for adults."

Tucker favors increased activity to help overweight children straighten out their cholesterol. "It makes the child lean and develops a strong, healthy heart, and develops habits that hopefully will carry into adulthood," he said.

Watching a child's diet can help, said Russell R. Pate, chairman of the exercise science department at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. But encouraging exercise is better, he said.

Dieting is "unlikely to be successful in the long term," Pate said. Exercise, although difficult, builds on children's natural tendency to be active, he said.

"Kids are more active than adults," Pate said. "You don't have as many kids who are absolutely dead-sedentary as you do adults."

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