New TAU Study Finds Obese Teens Can Recover Lost Bone Mass Thursday, November 1, 2007
A multidisciplinary approach to intervention pays dividends
Obese teens have less bone mass than teens of average weight, leaving them susceptible to osteoporosis and low-impact fractures. But TAU doctors recently found that obese teens can recover lost bone mass when they follow a unique physical and dietary intervention program for as little as three months. Preliminary results from this ongoing research were published recently in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.
"More than 25% of all American teens are obese, making this condition and its associated health effects, such as low-impact teen fractures, the number one chronic pediatric disease in the developed world," explain Dr. Dan Nemet and Dr. Alon Eliakim, associate professors at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine. Drs. Nemet and Eliakim also serve as sports physicians for the Israeli Olympic team (they are former international athletes themselves) and run a pediatric health center in Israel, where they cater to child athletes and patients who suffer from pediatric obesity and other chronic diseases.
For the study, the doctors crafted an intervention program to help rebuild deteriorating bones, utilizing a multidisciplinary approach composed of exercise, nutrition and psychological elements. During the three-month study, the doctors measured body composition, fitness and bone strength in twelve obese children, while a second control group of twelve children of similar age, sex and weight was also observed.
The researchers concluded that during the critical period of bone development of childhood and adolescence, a combination of dietary and physical activity intervention can lead to increased bone strength. Using a bone ultrasound method, bone strength was measured through a technique known as bone-speed-of-sound (SOS). At the end of the study, they found significant improvement in bone strength of the group that participated in the program.
Subjects participated in a twice-weekly exercise training program and met with a dietitian throughout the study. They were educated about the reasons for childhood obesity, received information about food choices (dietary and cooking habits), and learned how to deal with food during celebrations, vacations and restaurant visits. The behavioral component began with a meeting with a psychologist, followed by a weekly session of movement therapy.
The reasons for childhood obesity are plentiful, Dr. Nemet points out, "from bad nutrition, lack of exercise -- an attachment to the TV and eating junk food." He urged obese children to follow an after-school multidisciplinary program, similar to the one used in the study, to help them improve their health.
The health promotion plan proposed by the researchers is unique, they believe. "In most other centers in the world," says Dr. Nemet, "programs are not combined because they are not cost-efficient. We find the programs that offer a multi disciplinary treatment approach under one roof to be the most successful."
In a second recent study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the authors demonstrated the short- and long-term beneficial effects of their intervention program. Says Dr. Nemet, "In the long-run, if we can spare obese children from bone fractures and other health concerns, it will be a huge burden lifted off the healthcare system."
Parents who hope that their children's baby fat will melt away in adulthood should think again, cautions Dr. Nemet. "It is probably not baby fat. Obese children at the age of six have a 50% chance of becoming an obese adult. And if a child is obese at age 12, the odds rise to 70%."
The good news is that a little intervention goes a long long way.