BACKGROUND: Overweight and obesity are major public health problems in children and adolescents. The purpose of this study was to conduct a systematic review with meta-analysis to determine the effects of exercise (aerobic, strength or both) on body mass index (BMI) z-score in overweight and obese children and adolescents.
METHODS: Studies were included if they were randomized controlled exercise intervention trials > 4 weeks in overweight and obese children and adolescents 2 to 18 years of age, published in any language between 1990-2012 and in which data were available for BMI z-score. Studies were retrieved by searching eleven electronic databases, cross-referencing and expert review. Two authors (GAK, KSK) selected and abstracted data. Bias was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias Assessment Instrument. Exercise minus control group changes were calculated from each study and weighted by the inverse of the variance. All results were pooled using a random-effects model with non-overlapping 95% confidence intervals (CI) considered statistically significant. Heterogeneity was assessed using Q and I2 while funnel plots and Egger's regression test were used to assess for small-study effects. Influence and cumulative meta-analysis were performed as well as moderator and meta-regression analyses.
RESULTS: Of the 4,999 citations reviewed, 835 children and adolescents (456 exercise, 379 control) from 10 studies representing 21 groups (11 exercise, 10 control) were included. On average, exercise took place 4 x week for 43 minutes per session over 16 weeks. Overall, a statistically significant reduction equivalent to 3% was found for BMI z-score (X, -0.06, 95% CI, -0.09 to -0.03; Q = 24.9, p = 0.01; I(2)=59.8%). No small-study effects were observed and results remained statistically significant when each study was deleted from the model once. Based on cumulative meta-analysis, results have been statistically significant since 2009. None of the moderator or meta-regression analyses were statistically significant. The number-needed-to treat was 107 with an estimated 116,822 million obese US children and adolescents and approximately 1 million overweight and obese children and adolescents worldwide potentially improving their BMI z-score by participating in exercise.
CONCLUSIONS: Exercise improves BMI z-score in overweight and obese children and adolescents and should be recommended in this population group. However, a need exists for additional studies on this topic.