The Overweight Child: How Activity Changes Everything

The Overweight Child: How Activity Changes Everything

Regular physical activity can help overweight children lose weight - and gain self-esteem and a sense of pride.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

One in three kids in the U.S. is overweight or obese. And more than seven in 10 of those children continue to be overweight for their entire lives.

But a good pair of athletic shoes, plus support and motivation to get moving can go a long way toward beating these odds. Physical activity habits that start in childhood tend to stick. Active kids are more likely to be healthy adults.

Lift to lose
One secret to shedding unwanted pounds can be found in strength training. Resistance training builds muscle, and muscle burns more calories than fat. This revs up metabolic rate (the amount of calories the body burns during rest), which can help kids reach and keep a healthy weight.

Kids can try sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups. Doing gymnastics or playing games like tug-of-war also count. If your child wants a more structured resistance training program, seek advice from a certified personal trainer. And, check with your child's doctor to be sure it's safe.

Count on cardio
Strength training works best for weight loss when it's combined with aerobic exercise to get the heart and lungs involved. Kids should aim for 60 minutes of cardio exercise most days of the week. Aerobic exercise gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for an extended period of time. Examples include:

  • Sports like soccer or basketball
  • Swimming
  • Running
  • Bike riding
  • Jumping rope
  • Inline skating
  • Martial arts
  • Brisk walking
  • Playing tag
  • Dancing

More reasons to move
Exercise can help kids and teens in more ways beyond weight control. It can improve both physical and mental health. Physical activity helps:

  • Lower blood pressure and LDL - or "bad" - cholesterol levels
  • Raise HDL - or "good" - cholesterol levels
  • Strengthen the heart and lungs
  • Build bones and muscles
  • Improve flexibility
  • Cut the risk of injury (stronger muscles, tendons, and ligaments help make children resistant to sprains, strains, and tears)
  • Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower the chance of some cancers
  • Boost self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Improve symptoms of depression and anxiety

The benefits of working out can flow over into other areas of your child's life, too. For instance, when kids feel better about themselves they're more likely to do better in school.

Start slowly
It's often hard for overweight kids to get motivated to exercise. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed of their weight or skill level. To help, plan active family outings like a hiking or biking trip. Or turn off the TV and ask your child to take a stroll with you around the neighborhood after dinner. Remember, any activity is better than none.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening: what counts? Accessed: 07/29/2010
  • American Heart Association. Understanding childhood obesity. Accessed: 08/05/2010
  • American Heart Association. Physical activity and children. Accessed: 08/20/2010
  • Janssen I. LeBlanc AG. Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-aged children and youth. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2010;7(40):1-16.
  • American College of Sports Medicine. Youth resistance training. Accessed: 07/29/2010

Copyright © 2011 myOptumHealth.