For kids, body fat distribution matters more than weight when it comes to diabetes risk

Kids who exercise tend to have better body fat distribution, regardless of what they weigh, reports a new study from the University of Illinois.

This key finding suggests that monitoring numbers on the scale may be less important than monitoring kids' overall fitness levels – at least when it comes to preventing conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

The FITKids study reveals how body composition can be changed with regular physical activity, said postdoctoral researcher Naiman Khan, from the university's Division of Nutritional Sciences. At the end of the nine-month study, there was a clear contrast between kids who exercised and kids who didn't, he explained.

"FITKids had improved cardiovascular fitness, less overall body fat, and carried less fat around their abdomens, a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. The opposite was true for the control group who maintained their regular after-school routine."

Normal-weight kids at risk for weight gain

Interestingly, normal-weight kids who don't exercise can't just skate by without consequences, the study found. Based on the findings, these kids do end up gaining more weight than is healthy for their age – and it usually gets stored as dangerous abdominal fat, which raises risk for diabetes.

So what's the main takeaway?

Khan says parents of healthy-weight kids should still enthusiastically encourage exercise.

"Your child should engage in moderate to vigorous exercise for about an hour a day," he concluded. "Adults should make sure kids have a space to play and play games in and opportunities to be physically during or after school. If kids are at a healthy weight for their age, we want to make sure they stay that way."

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

Source: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

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