Physical activity and obesity in youth; Teens and exercise
December 2007
Shape Up America! Newsletter

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A special thank you to Van Alstyne Physical Therapy & Fitness in Texas for making Shape Up America! the beneficiary of their Fitness Challenge 2007. The participants raised $1138.00 for Shape Up America!

Can Physical Activity Avert Obesity in School-Aged Youth?
by Barbara J. Moore, PhD
Results from the 2005 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), show that not enough youth are participating in either moderate or vigorous physical activity. According to the survey findings, only 26 percent participated in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five or more days a week and 64 percent participated in vigorous physical activity for at least 20 minutes on three or more days a week.1

Survey findings

The CDC convened a panel of experts to evaluate the evidence for the beneficial effects of physical activity on a broad range of health outcomes and behaviors, including body fat content (adiposity) in school-aged youth, ages 6 to 18. The experts based their evaluation on more than 850 relevant scientific studies.2 Here we discuss only those findings related to overweight or obesity.

The panelists noted that comparing the findings among studies was somewhat difficult since the definitions of overweight and obesity in youth have varied over time and different studies focused on different indicators of adiposity. But there was agreement that both cross-sectional studies (studies of children of similar age at only one point in time) and longitudinal studies (studies in which a group of children are measured more than once over a period of time, usually months or years) provide evidence that youth of both sexes who are highly active are less fat than their less active counterparts. More specifically:

  • In overweight children and teens, moderate intensity exercise that lasts 30 to 60 minutes three to seven days a week leads to a reduction in total body fat and visceral fat. (Visceral fat is located in the abdominal area and is generally regarded as more dangerous to health than total body fat).
  • For normal weight boys and girls, more intensive and longer sessions of physical activity (greater than 80 minutes a day) are needed to reduce the body fat percentage or proportion of body weight that is fat weight.
  • Although data on injury are scant, physical education and after-school programs designed to increase physical activity in children and youth are associated with an injury rate that is extremely low or nearly zero.
  • There are many beneficial effects of physical activity including favorable effects on cardiovascular health, asthma, mental health, academic performance, memory, behavior, bone mineral and muscular strength and endurance.

The report, however, did not specify the level of physical activity that is clearly associated with maintaining normal adiposity, or body fatness, over time. Since adiposity varies greatly in school-aged youth and the patterns of fat accumulation differ in males and females as they grow and develop, "normal" means a level of adiposity that is appropriate for the child's age and gender. The report suggests that higher levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity, meaning 30 to 80 minutes a day three to seven days a week, may be needed to prevent obesity in youth. Vigorous activity is defined as activity performed at a level of intensity that causes sweating and breathing hard. A wide variety of aerobic activities are suitable, so the challenge for youth, as it is for adults, is to find activities that are enjoyable.

The report supports the recommendations by the CDC for daily quality physical education from kindergarten through grade 12. It notes that opportunities to be physically active should be supported in school through recess, intramural sports, before- and after-school programs and physical education classes. The report also states that physical inactivity is a strong contributor to overweight and that excessive television viewing, computer use, video games and telephone conversations should be discouraged.

The overall recommendation is that school-age youth should participate every day in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity that is enjoyable and developmentally appropriate.

Teens and Exercise
by Francesca Zavacky
Ask any elementary school child what their favorite activity at school is and you are likely to hear physical education class, recess and lunch among the top choices. Fast forward to middle and high school, and physical education class might not make the list at all. We know that kids are more active than adults, but as children become teens, many of them leave behind their former active habits and instead become more sedentary. Why is that?

Like the adults they will become, teens begin to shift their priorities when it comes to free time. Afternoons of play take a back seat to increased homework loads and part-time jobs. Video games and technology have replaced running around the neighborhood, resulting in rising childhood obesity and less participation in physical activity. The confidence and fun of childhood are replaced by self-consciousness and worry about fitting in with peers. What's a teen to do?

Hopefully, teens will rethink the decision to hang up their sneakers and take some of the advice they learned in health class. The physical benefits of regular aerobic exercise, often called cardio, are worth working toward. During cardiovascular exercise, the body uses oxygen more efficiently, strengthens the heart and lungs, and uses excess calories that would otherwise be stored as fat, thus controlling body weight. Aerobic exercise not only helps the body, but also a person's mental health by relaxing tense muscles and relieving the stress response.

Strength, or resistance training, has a valuable place in a teen's life, that of building muscle and strength. Many teens might not realize that resistance training — using muscles to work against (lift, push or pull) extra pounds — strengthens the muscles in the body and can raise metabolism and increase calories burned. This reduces the likelihood of accumulating extra fat. Additionally, this type of training actually builds muscle. The more muscle mass a person has, the more work the body must do to burn the fuel that is eaten — offering the best way to stay healthy and look good at the same time. Strength training burns fat, which translates into a leaner physique that uses fuel more efficiently. And because muscle burns more calories than fat, increased muscle mass keeps on using more calories even after the workout ends.

Keep in mind that strength-training doesn't mean bulging muscles. Buff is all about what is going on inside those muscles. Everyone can work on resistance training in order to get stronger without seeing muscles get noticeably bigger, just more defined. Teens and adults can use resistance bands, their own body weight, free weights, or weight machines to work on strength training. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) has a valuable resource called Strength Training for Children and Adolescents. This book helps with implementing a safe, effective and enjoyable strength training program for youths ages seven and older, including basic to advanced exercises and activities. A new edition of this book, written by Scott O. Roberts, will be available in February and can be ordered at that time by calling 800-321-0789.

Teens don't need a fancy gym for most strength training, but when using weights or machines, it is recommended that they have someone nearby to supervise or spot them, to watch their exercise technique and make sure they are aligning their bones and muscles properly during execution, and to encourage them as they go so they don't overdo it. A spotter is also important for safety in case the person loses control of a weight while lifting or something doesn't feel right.

The great thing about strength training is that for a modest investment of time, teens can have an exercise experience that they get to choose themselves. They can work alone, in a group, at home, or at a gym with friends. To begin, they should get some expert advice from a physical education teacher or trainer about how best to warm up and cool down before and after the lifting sessions. Include strength training three times each week for 20 to 60 minutes, including warm up and cool down, with a day off in between sessions.

Teens should ask for specific advice about exercises to use and how much weight to lift in the beginning. Once they have developed a routine that meets their needs, they should try the routine without weights, just using their own body weight to perform the exercises and focusing on using good technique as they do the exercises. Once they have the movements down, add weight. There are many websites that can help teens remember how to do those exercises that might be new to them. For a great virtual exercise technique reminder, go to The Training Station, which has animated examples of most strength training exercises using correct technique.

Teens new to strength training should start out slow until they get used to the new routine. They should be prepared for some delayed muscle soreness if they haven't been training in awhile or if the routine is very different from the exercise they've been doing. Once teens have incorporated this exercise routine into their lifestyle, they will find themselves well on the way to teen fitness.

Francesca Zavacky is Senior Manager of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE)

Holiday Gift Giving
The holidays provide a great opportunity to give gifts that promote physical activity and healthful eating. Here are some family-friendly gift ideas:
  • Cooking lessons for children that focus on creative ways to prepare tasty dishes featuring whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • A set of measuring cups and spoons and a cookbook with kid-appeal or a few simple recipes that you can prepare together.
  • A bike, scooter, skateboard or other toy that is powered by the child's muscles.
  • A ball, frisbee or hacky sack (footbag).
  • Ice skating or indoor tennis lessons.
  • A family vacation that involves physical activity, like skiing.
  • A donation to Shape Up America!

My Story
Adrianna found the key to her 120 pound weight loss-exercise. She's loving it and still going strong. Congratulations, Adrianna, on your well-deserved success!

I have always been an overweight person even throughout my childhood. My parents really didn't set any guidelines as far as how much to eat and what was OK to eat. So I learned to eat and clean my plate. Over the years I started to view food as more of a comfort zone. I ate when I was happy, sad or bored. I weighed almost 300 lbs. in my 12th grade year of high school. I really didn't pay particular attention to my weight or the harm I was doing to my health. Until my last year of high school, when I decided to do something about it.

I made up in my mind that I had had enough. It was weird how it came about. My sister bought one of those old Jane Fonda videos from a thrift store. I tried it out just to see what it was about, not taking it seriously. I began to like it because, believe it or not, I was always sort of an active person. I liked to exercise. I was hooked on the aerobics video. I was faithful everyday. Soon my eating habits changed and the weight began to drop! Read More…

If you would like to share your personal success story and be an inspiration to others who desire to lose weight, simply use our story submission system on the SUA Web site.

Recipe of the Month
For a healthier twist on a sweet and sour classic, try these bold-flavored party hors d'oeuvres. This tasty dish freezes well and is ideal for making ahead of time.
Hot Cocktail Meatballs
Makes 36 meatballs (2 meatballs per serving)


  • 2 slices whole-wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 1 lb. 93% lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg white
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1/2 cup chile sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup fruit-sweetened grape spread, or low-sugar grape jelly
  • 1 tsp. chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Soak the bread in a bowl of cold water until it is soft, about 30 seconds. Squeeze out all of the moisture and place the bread in a large mixing bowl. Add the turkey, rice, onion, garlic, egg, egg white, salt and pepper. Mix with a fork until well combined.
  3. Form the mixture into 1-inch meatballs, placing them 1/2-inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, or until the meatballs feel firm and are white in the center.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large, deep saucepan, combine the tomato puree, chile sauce, tomato paste, grape spread, chile powder, garlic powder and ginger. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat and simmer the sauce, stirring to dissolve the jam. Cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes.
  5. Add the meatballs and cook 5 minutes longer. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to two days. Reheat in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, for about 30 minutes. Or, cover with foil and place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 87 calories, 2 grams total fat, less than 1 gram saturated fat, 11 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams protein, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 374 milligrams sodium.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research,

phone: 406-686-4844

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Editor: Adrienne Forman, MS, RD

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