After-school Program Enhances Pediatric Fitness

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Young man exercisingMADISON—The numbers don't lie: Routine participation in an after-school fitness program can make a major difference in a child's level of cardiovascular fitness, including reducing body fat and increasing oxygen consumption.

So say the results of a recent research collaboration between the YMCA of Dane County and UW Health Sports Medicine.

In July of last year, 50 elementary- and middle-school-aged children who are enrolled in the YMCA's after-school YKidzFit program visited the UW Health Sports Medicine Center's Pediatric Fitness Clinic, where they received scans that measured their percentages of fat and lean body mass. They also took a test that gauged their maximum oxygen consumption.
In April, following nine months of activity in the Y's fitness program, 25 of the kids came back to the clinic for follow-up testing.
The results were encouraging. The children's maximal oxygen consumption increased, and their percentage of body fat dropped an average of six percent.

"These are important, statistically significant advances in fitness," says Dr. Aaron Carrel, the UW Health pediatric endocrinologist who heads the fitness clinic. "They really speak to the difference an after-school fitness program like the YKidzFit program can make in promoting and maintaining an active lifestyle."
Pat O'Brien, the president and CEO of YMCA of Dane County, agrees.
"The positive impact of getting children started early in a more active, healthy lifestyle is dramatic on their future health and related health care costs."

Interestingly, while most of the study participants experienced a decrease in body fat, their body mass index (BMI), a commonly used fitness calculation based primarily on an individual's height and weight, didn't change at all.

"This tells us that BMI alone probably isn't the best way to measure a child's level of fitness," says Dr. Carrel. "We need to incorporate a more complex measurement to capture that."

The YMCA YKidzFit program is a fitness-based initiative designed to teach children in grades k-6 that nutrition and fitness can be fun. The program began in 2005.

UW Health's Pediatric Fitness Clinic works with the YMCA and several Wisconsin middle schools to help develop and test the effectiveness of a lifestyle curriculum. The two programs have been collaborating on research and fitness since 2007.

Date Published: 05/29/2009

News tag(s):  pediatric fitnesssportsaaron l carrelchildren

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