A recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics found conclusively that for teenagers between the ages of 14-18, a combination of weight training plus cardiovascular work is the best way to “fight teen obesity”. This is the headlines that went up all over the country and internet saying that the amazing findings of this study were that if teenagers did strength training and cardio work combined instead of just one or the other, they would lose more weight.
This is news?
I hate to say it but that was my first reaction. However, when I took a closer look at this study I found that there were in my opinion some flaws in the methods used to determine this conclusion.
Basically this study, which you can read HERE took 304 overweight teens and put them into four groups, one of each doing only strength training OR cardio, one doing nothing, and one doing a combination. They did this program for 22 weeks (almost six months!). They were also given diet counselling. At the end, the group that did the combination of both was found to have lost less body fat overall (compared to the strength training group), but their waist size decreased the most – by a whole centimeter. That’s not even one whole pant size.
Therefore this shows that a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training is better than strength training alone or cardio alone. Again, this isn’t news to anyone (I sincerely hope). This has been proven time and again to be the best approach for those of you out there who are looking to drop inches and pounds.
But when we look a little closer, the criteria for what they consider “overweight” has some flaws. They cited overweight as at or above 95th percentile of BMI or 85th if there was one or more risk factors or health condition already existing (like diabetes). So this means that a teenager with a BMI of above 28.5 (the cutoff for 95th highest BMI percentile according to statisticians) is overweight or obese.
Do you know what that means? An 18 year old who is 5’10” and 180 pounds qualifies for this study as an “overweight teen”. A BMI of 24 actually falls into the 85th percentile of qualification. So if my daughter is 5’3” and weighs 135 pounds according to this study she is overweight. Oh, and another note – when she turns 18, even if she is the same height and weight suddenly she has dropped to the 74th percentile. Does that make sense?
Pretty much any athletic teen is going to weigh at last that much and sometimes more. Using BMI as a method of overweight is a highly flawed criteria in my opinion. There’s a lot of other flaws. They obviously weren’t all following the same diet. Who knows how many workouts they actually completed on their own. It didn’t indicate if any of them were athletes previously, inactive or high level performers. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch for a 16 year old football player to be 5’8 and 160 pounds but have very low body fat and high muscle mass.
So this made national (actually international) news because we heard about it up here in Canada. I guess it was a slow news cycles, what with war in the Middle East and a deadly epidemic spreading around the world.
The simple fact is that kids today don’t get enough exercise. Currently 59% of adults in Canada are overweight or obese in Canada (as of 2012). We can blame a lot of things here. Increased screen time, lack of physical education and after school sports programs, deteriorating nutrition both at home and at school and simply the fact that overweight parents tend to have overweight children because kids learn many things from their parents, not the least of which is eating habits. The medical industry unfortunately can’t or won’t help because many doctors have no clue about proper diet and exercise habits themselves. Many doctors I have worked with or attended have been relatively clueless about these things because it really isn’t their job to know about it even though they are expected to.
However, if you do have a young teenager or someone younger at home then the good news is you can keep their weight down. Guess what’s a great way to get both cardio and resistance exercise without a gym?
Whether your kid is an individual sport kid (like I was – I ran track, did cross country skiing and played all racquet sports) or a team sport kid (like my sister who played basketball and hockey) there are a couple of dozen options available for each type. And even if the cost is prohibitive to a budget for things like hockey, there are tons of community resources available in any city for parents who want affordable exercise for their kids. Even something like martial arts isn’t ridiculously expensive, teaches really great fundamentals of coordination, discipline and uses lots of strength at the same time. Finding time as a busy parent can be hard, but what’s the priority – a healthy, happy kid or a promotion at work?
The sad thing is that I have trained kids as young as 8 and 10, and they could barely balance enough to walk slowly on a treadmill. Kids just simply don’t learn these things when they are developing any more. I could go on a rant about parenting and education these days but I’ll save that for another time.
So if you have a teen that is struggling with weight, maybe a good option is to get them to put down the Ipad, register them for a few sports or activities to see what they enjoy doing and get them being active and moving around more. Long term they will be much better off for so many reasons. Maybe even do it with them if you need help as well. Things like martial arts or even group exercise are easy to do with your teenager. Take your kid for a run or a bike ride on the weekends instead of staying inside. Take the whole family out for a long hike without any technology.
Like I said at the beginning, it isn’t news that kids need more exercise, or that a combination of things is likely to help them lose that extra centimeter. But it starts with actually getting them involved with exercise.
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