Exercise as it relates to Disease/Is exercise making children smarter?

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This Wiki page is a critical analysis of the paper: Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Overweight Children's Cognitive Functioning: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Written by Davis, Catherine L; Tomporowski, Phillip D; Boyle, Colleen A; Waller, Jennifer L; Miller, Patricia H; et al.[1]

What is the background to this research?[edit | edit source]

Obesity is defined by the World Health Organisation as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.[2] Childhood obesity has been recognised as one the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.[3] With the growing seriousness of the health issue further investigation is needed into the health epidemic. Not only does obesity have many different effects on the body it has a negative impact on executive function. Obesity can be linked to cognitive defects.[4] With approximately one quarter (24.9%) of children aged 5–17 years were overweight or obese in 2017-18.[5] Due to the overwhelming number of children in Australia and the fear of cognitive function being impacted as a result of obesity, the need for further surveillance is needed. Exercise can be used a treatment and a prevention of obesity. While treating obesity cognitive deficits are being prevented and the children will result in a greater capacity to be able to learn.

The article itself is investigating the effects of aerobic training on cognitive function of overweight, sedentary children.[1] The trial also looks at the relationship between low dose exercise and high dose exercise and their effect on cognitive function.

Where is the research from?[edit | edit source]

The research article is published in what is currently known as Research Quarterly for Exercise. It was previously known as Research Quarterly.[6] American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. This specific article was Vol. 78, No. 5 pp. 510–519. The research took place in Augusta, Georgia, USA. The Human Assurance Committee of the Medical College of Georgia reviewed and approved the study. The study was conducted in concert with a larger study that is evaluating the effects of exercise training on the metabolism of overweight children.[1] The authors of the article are from a wide range of recognized fields such as paediatrics, Kinesiology, Nutrition, Biostatistics and Psychology.[1]

What kind of research was this?[edit | edit source]

The study was a randomized controlled trial. A randomized control study is considered the gold standard largely to the fact that they deliver a high level of evidence with a limit influence of any sorts of bias[7]

What did the research involve?[edit | edit source]

The research analysed 94 school children ranging from 7 to 11 years old, fifty-six girls and thirty-eight boys. The trial did not excluded children who were overweight they were encouraged to participate in the study. Some children within the participation where taking medication for attention-deficit disorder and where encouraged to continue to do so and participate in the study even when the cognitive testing was being conducted, this maximized the generalization of results.[1] The children were randomly assigned to three different groups. The groups were; low-dose exercise treatment, which consisted of 20 min of aerobic exercise per session; a high- dose exercise treatment, which consisted of 40 min of exercise; or a no-exercise control group.[1] Having a control group allows for accurate comparison of results. Each group participated in the exercise treatment programs which met 5 days per week for 15 weeks. Three cohorts participated successively in the study over 2 years to allow a larger sample size than could be accommodated at one time.[1] The Cognitive Assessment System (CAS), a standardized test of cognitive processes, was used to test the cognitive function of the participants. This was administered individually before and following intervention.[1] The CAS is an effective test to examine the cognitive function of children as it is based on the PASS theory (planning, attention, stimulation and successive). When compared to an IQ test the CAS measure an important dimension of children’s cognitive function of creativity due to creativity and planning having a strong relationship.[8]

Limitations[edit | edit source]
  • The study was limited to overweight sedentary children
  • Children were not blinded to their group assignment, nor were the interventionists blind to condition or the hypotheses of the study. On the other hand, the evaluators were blinded to group assignment in order to obtain unbiased assessment of cognitive outcomes.
Strengths[edit | edit source]
  • Randomized control trial
  • Limitations are minimal and where negated
  • Length of the study (2 years)
  • Larger and diverse cohort
  • Use of appropriate test for cognitive function

What were the basic results?[edit | edit source]

The results were as predicted the planning results of the CAS test where statistically significant between the groups. The control group had a significantly lower post test score than then high dose exercise group. Meanwhile the low dose group had a lower post test score than the high dose group.[1]

CAS planning scores Control Low dose High dose
Pretest 95.9 95.9 100.5
Post test 99.0 100.2 108.4


What conclusions can we take from this research?[edit | edit source]

This research has paved a way to combat the ever-growing concern of obesity in children also along with, increasing their cognitive function through 40 minutes of vigorous physical activity. Due to the growing concern around childhood obesity along with the lack of research surrounding the hypothesis that exercise has a positive influence on cognitive function in children. The study has brought forward the positive impacts that physical exercise has on improving cognitive function within children and treating childhood obesity.

Practical advice[edit | edit source]

The research has shown that 20 minutes of exercise five times a week has some improvement in a child’s executive function. But when compared to 40 minutes of exercise five times a week a child’s executive function increases significantly when compared to a sedentary child.

Simple things can be changed to achieve this, increasing physical activity classes at school, increasing lunch and recess play time and encourage children to be active during recess and lunch times. After school activities and sports By doings these things the potential for learning is increased.

Further information/resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d e f g h i j Davis C, Tomporowski P, Boyle C, Waller J, Miller P, Naglieri J et al. Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Overweight Children's Cognitive Functioning: A Randomized Controlled Trial.Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2007;78(5):510-519.
  2. WHO | Obesity [Internet]. Who.int. 2019 [cited 5 September 2019]. Available from: https://www.who.int/topics/obesity/en/
  3. Childhood overweight and obesity [Internet]. World Health Organization. 2019 [cited 5 September 2019]. Available from: https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/childhood/en/
  4. Smith E, Hay P, Campbell L, Trollor J. A review of the association between obesity and cognitive function across the lifespan: implications for novel approaches to prevention and treatment. Obesity Reviews. 2011;12(9):740-755.
  5. National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18 [Internet]. Abs.gov.au. 2019 [cited 5 September 2019]. Available from: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4364.0.55.001
  6. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport [Internet]. Tandfonline.com. 2019 [cited 5 September 2019]. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/urqe20
  7. Bondemark L, Ruf S. Randomized controlled trial: the gold standard or an unobtainable fallacy?. The European Journal of Orthodontics. 2015;37(5):457-461
  8. Naglieri J, Kaufman J. Understanding intelligence, giftedness and creativity using the pass theory. Roeper Review. 2001;23(3):151-156.