Exercise May Reverse Heart Disease in Fat Kids

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Our children are getting fatter, and even toddlers are showing
early signs of heart disease such as high cholesterol and the
beginnings of clogged arteries. But several researchers told a
recent meeting of the American Heart Association that parents can
safely do something about it.

Daniel Green of the University of Western Australia tested 35
obese children aged 6 to 16. He used a test of vascular
endothelial function that looks at the inside of the blood
vessels. This is a test that detects the first development of
atherosclerosis. Many of the children already had unusual signs,
suggesting that they were in the early stages of arterial
disease. Other studies have shown that such children go on to
develop overt symptoms 30 to 40 years later.

For the teens, Green put together an eight-week weight-training
program. Their total body weight didn’t change, but the children
lost body fat and replaced it with lean muscle mass.

“In young children it is a little bit trickier because they don’t
want to push weights in a gym. They want to run around in a
field,” Green said. “It was essentially fun and games.” Both
groups had tended to hang back in school physical education
programs, but threw themselves wholeheartedly into Green’s
program, he said.

In both groups, total blood cholesterol levels did not change,
but both groups had improved endothelial function.

After eight weeks of exercising three times a week for an hour
each time, the children were allowed to go back to their
sedentary ways. Two months later, Green tested their blood
vessels again.

“The improvements we saw with exercise had reverted back,” he
said. “The bad news is you have to keep on doing it. The good
news is it has a good effect.”