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Exercise and Low Fat Diet Can Reverse Childhood Metabolic Complications


Obesity is a risk factor for pregnancy complications that affects one in five pregnant women in the US. The risks, though, are not just limited to the mom-to-be. Children born to obese mothers have a greater chance of having obesity themselves as well as metabolic complications such as impaired glucose tolerance. But thankfully, the child’s fate is not set in stone. Regular physical activity and a healthy, low-fat diet can reverse the complications brought on by maternal obesity.

Professor Margaret J Morris of the School of Medicine at the University of New South Wales conducted a study on pregnant laboratory female rats, half of which were obese and half of which were of normal weight. Not unexpectedly, the rodents born to the obese mothers were 12% heavier after weaning than those born to the controls. They also had more fat deposits, higher levels of plasma lipids, elevated blood pressure, and glucose intolerance.

Of the animals born to the obese mums, the juvenile rats were who were allowed to exercise were able to reduce fat mass, blood fats and blood pressure. Insulin resistance was also reduced. When the rats were also fed a low-fat diet, the combination actually caused the pups metabolically to reach levels similar to those who were born to the normal weight mothers.

“Eating well is obviously a good thing, but exercise is the key. Our previous studies showed that offspring of obese mothers who ate well but were sedentary weren’t able to reverse the metabolic risk factors. It was only in this study when exercise was introduced that improvement was recorded,” Professor Morris said.

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Childhood obesity in the United States has tripled in the past three decades with more than one-third of children and adolescents considered overweight or obese. In the short-term, these children are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease and prediabetes. Over the long-term, as the children move into adulthood, they are at greater risk for remaining obese and therefore health problems continue, including an increased risk for many types of cancer.

As shown in this study, regular physical activity not only builds healthy bones and muscles and improves endurance and strength in children, it can also reduce – or reverse - the health risk factors they may have. But in a national survey reported by the CDC, only 77% of children aged 9 to 13 reported engaging in free-time physical activity during the previous 7 days. Only 18% of high school students had participated in the recommended 60 minutes of exercise a day.

As a parent, you can shape your child’s attitudes and behaviors regarding physical activity. Set a positive example yourself and make exercise a regular part of your family’s daily life. Take kids to places where they can be active, such as parks, community soccer or baseball fields, or take a walk around your neighborhood if it is safe to do so. Join a family-oriented community center, such as the YMCA, for additional activities such as swimming and basketball or cheerleading camps.

Journal Reference:
S. Rajia, H. Chen, M.J. Morris . Voluntary post weaning exercise restores metabolic homeostasis in offspring of obese rats.
Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases - 06 February 2012 (10.1016/j.numecd.2011.12.009)

Additional Resources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention