Every now and then, a headline floats by on the screen that poses an irresistible query. In this case, the question is, “Why don’t children with obesity benefit instantly from exercise?”
Why is it seemingly so rare for a child to be able to exercise her or his way out of obesity? This is not meant to cast aspersions on the value of exercise in and of itself. Every system in the body benefits from motion. As filmmaker Maya Deren used to say, “Make it move to make it live.”
Prolific and diverse writer Ian Thomsen begins by relating how one of the country’s most excellent school districts (meaning, in the Top 40) prepares children for standardized academic tests. First, they are taken outside for a brisk walk, because studies have shown that exercise improves intellectual performance. Specifically, during the test itself, children become more adept at multitasking, retaining thoughts from one moment to the next, and ignoring distractions.
Well, most of them, anyway. Because, according to Prof. Charles Hillman of the Center for Cognitive and Brain Health, this increase in function does not extend to obese children:
Hillman’s research has found that children in general experience a jump in cognitive performance in the hour immediately following exercise. The exception to this rule is children with obesity… Among children ages 8 to 11, Hillman’s center found that those with a higher body mass index failed to realize a cognitive gain…
The thrust of the inquiry seems to be a suspicion that if researchers can decipher exactly what is going on in one area to cause such a noticeable benefit, perhaps that insight is transferrable to the more mysterious question of why, when the time comes to step on a scale, exercise alone does not seem to move the needle very much.
So far, the suspected culprit is visceral adipose tissue, which protects the internal organs and is very necessary… up to a point. Once that point is passed, however, visceral fat becomes a detriment. Figuring out how that mechanism works might provide insight that is applicable to the tougher questions.
Assistant Professor Lauren Raine, who holds a very long title at a very impressive institution, says,
We know that increased fat is related to increased inflammation… [Obese children] benefit greatly from a long-term approach to fitness. A sustained nine-month program of exercise resulted in greater-than-normal cognitive gains for children with obesity.
The scientists involved here seem to intuit that if an exercise program can be devised that benefits obese children cognitively, as much as it benefits normal-weight children, then whatever it is that causes the effect will extend to other areas of bodily health. If they find out what works in the short term, perhaps they can proceed to understand what will help most in the long run, to prevent and reverse obesity in young people.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Why Don’t Children with Obesity Benefit Instantly from Exercise?,” Northeastern.edu, 08/30/22
Image by Adam Bautz/CC BY 2.0