Meta-analysis: Physical activity not effective for treating overweight children

stadium with running tracks

Focusing on physical activity has no effect on treating childhood overweight and obesity, according to a new meta-analysis.

Not only is exercise not very helpful in controlling weight in the first place. It also turns out that overweight kids don’t really increase their physical activity in studies that try to get them to do so:

Obesity Review: Effectiveness of Interventions on Physical Activity in Overweight or Obese Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Including Studies with Objectively Measured Outcomes.

This means a double failure for the simplistic “let’s move” mentality.

Once again: you can’t outrun a bad diet. And kids, it seems, can’t even be forced to run in the first place (if anyone really thought that was a good idea).

Please note that I’m not advocating for sedentary lifestyles. I’m just pointing out that the ‘eat less, run more’ dogma is outdated. Physical activity is important for health, but has a negligible effect on weight.

There’s likely only one way to massively improve the childhood obesity problem. Make sure that kids get to grow up in a healthy food environment, without added sugars in everything.


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  1. Brendan
    This was definitely my experience growing up as well.
  2. Axel F Sigurdsson
    I think the discussion is a bit misleading Andreas. This meta-analysis could not provide any evidence of effectiveness of physical activity interventions on objectively measured physical activity among overweight and obese children or adolescents. So, the results only tell us that interventions aimed at urging children to exercise don't make them exercise. It doesn't tell us whether physical activity by itself itself is helpful or not.
  3. BobM
    This has been studied. I can't find the study right now, but they randomized the kids into two groups: one took physical education at school and one did not. Difference at the end of the study? None. The kids who took phys ed at school simply went home and did nothing. The kids who did not take phys ed at school went home and went crazy.

    Repeat after me: physical activity does not cause weight loss; physical activity does not cause weight loss; physical activity does not cause weight loss; physical activity does not cause weight loss....

    Our kids are very active, dance classes, karate, soccer. They can easily gain weight eating a high carb diet. Reducing their carbs causes them to lose weight. Unfortunately, everything school-based involves carbs, and the entire system is aligned against them (snack time just causes an insulin response, making them hungrier and fatter; the school has non-fat, high-sugar chocolate milk but not full fat milk; all the food at school -- and we only allow them eat school lunches at most once per week -- are low fat; it goes on and on...).

  4. Axel. Sigurdsson
    Fair enough. But... There is no doubt that regular exercise improves health. There are favourable changes in lipid metabolism and less insulin resistance. The effects on muscle mass are obvious. There are a lot of lifestyle interventions that improve health without promoting weight loss. Regular exercise should be a part of every weight management program because it improves health. Whether it promotes weight loss is irrelevant in this context.

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