Long considered an adult-only disease, type 2 diabetes is becoming more prevalent among children. Children as young as eight years of age are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and the incidence appears to be increasing rapidly. The development of type 2 diabetes is closely related to obesity; however other risk factors include family history, ethnic background, and physical inactivity.

“Physical activity plays a powerful role in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes, however, little data exists to describe the role of physical activity in the prevention of type 2 diabetes in obese youth,” says Dr. Jonathan McGavock. Canadian Diabetes Association past scholar and research scientist at the Manitoba Institute of Child Health “Since health care expenditures associated with diabetes are significant, novel cost effective strategies are required to prevent early-onset type 2 diabetes and its complications in youth.”

Obese youth ages 13 to 19 years old were recruited for the P.O.W.E.R Trial (Physical Activity Intensity and Adiposity in Obese Youth).  The 120 selected youth were randomly placed into three groups: a vigorous physical activity group, a moderate physical activity group and a sedentary control group. Over a period of six months, physical activity programming was delivered three times weekly for 30 to 45 minutes to both the vigorous and moderate physical activity groups. Visceral adipose tissue (fat tissue around internal organs in the abdominal cavity), liver fat content, total body fat and waist circumference were measured.

The study concluded that increased physical activity, regardless of intensity, leads to fat reduction in obese youth. Vigorous physical activity was not associated with greater loss of fat tissue relative to moderate physical activity, despite the original hypothesis stating that vigorous intensity physical activity would lead to a greater reduction in fat tissue.

“These findings are important as they indicate any level of physical activity will reduce the long-term effect of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in obese youth,” says Dr. McGavock. “The future goal for my work is to create much-needed objective evidence to inform public policy and clinical decision making for the role of physical activity in the prevention of type 2 diabetes in youth.”

The P.O.W.E.R Trial was funded by the Lawson Foundation, the Cosmopolitan Foundation, the Canadian Diabetes Association and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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