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Are obese children truly unfit? Minimizing the confounding effect of body size on the exercise response

  • Author(s): Cooper, DM
  • Poage, J
  • Barstow, TJ
  • Springer, C
  • et al.

To test the hypothesis that obese children are unfit (i.e., have abnormal responses to exercise testing consistent with reduced levels of habitual physical activity), we used new analytic strategies in studies of 18 obese children performing cycle ergometry. The subjects' weight (mean±SD) was 168±24% that predicted by height, and the age range was 9 to 17 years. Size-independent measures of exercise (e.g., the ratio of oxygen uptake (vo2) to work rate during progressive exercise and the temporal response of vo2, carbon dioxide output (vco2), and minute ventilation (ve) at the onset of exercise) were used. The ability to perform external mechanical work was corrected for vo2at unloaded pedaling (change in maximum oxygen uptake (Δvo2max) and in anaerobic threshold (ΔAT). On average, obese children's responses were in the normal range: Δvo2max, 104±41% (±SD) predicted (by age); ΔAT, 85±51%; ratio of change in ve to change in vco2, 111±21% and ratio of change in vo2to change in work rate, 100±24%, but six of the obese children had values of Δvo2max or ΔAT that were more than 2 SD below normal. In addition, obese children did not have increased Δvo2max or ΔAT with age as observed in nonobese children. Although the response time of vo2was normal (99±32%) of predicted, those for both vco2and ve were prolonged. We conclude that the finding of obesity in a child is not a reliable indicator of poor fitness but that testing cardiorespiratory responses to exercise can be used to identify subjects with serious impairment and to individualize therapy. © 1990 The C. V. Mosby Company.

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