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Supervised exercise improves mental wellbeing of obese teenagers

Obese teenagers could benefit from being offered structured exercise sessions through their doctor, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham and Sheffield Hallam University.

The study of eighty-one 11-16 year olds suggests that offering an organised programme of exercise helps obese adolescents overcome problems with their self esteem and overall mental health as well as encouraging them to develop a more active lifestyle.

The study was led by Dr Amanda Daley at the University of Birmingham with sessions delivered by Rob Copeland at Sheffield Hallam University. Dr Amanda Daley said: “Obesity amongst adolescents is a serious and growing problem. Although they may initially come to their doctor with no specific health problems, severe obesity can lead onto diabetes or heart problems relatively quickly.

Worryingly we found that nearly a third of the young people, who took part in the study experienced depression and a similar number reported having suicidal thoughts at baseline. This shows we need to tackle the mental effects of obesity as well as the physical effects. For many overweight teenagers, organised exercise is daunting and embarassing.”

The participants were randomised into three groups to allow the researchers to compare supervised exercise interventions with usual care. The exercise group was offered three, one to one exercise sessions per week at Sheffield Hallam's Centre for Sport and Exercise Science (CSES), over an eight week period. They were then asked to follow a similar exercise programme at home for a further six weeks.

Rob Copeland, senior exercise science officer at CSES, said: " the sessions provided participants with a positive exercise experience which helped change perceptions regarding their physcial selves."

The results showed that the adolescents who were offered exercise had significantly improved self esteem and they increased their levels of physical activity compared to those who were not offered the exercise programme.

Dr Daley continues: “Our results suggest that offering obese adolescents a structured programme of exercise can be very beneficial to both their mental and physical wellbeing.

The perception is that obese young people simply aren’t motivated to exercise, but our study showed that this doesn’t seem to be the case. More than 75% of the teenagers, who were offered exercise, followed the programme, unfortunately exercise interventions are very rarely offered to obese young people.”

Donna Goodwin | alfa
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