INTRODUCTION: Childhood obesity and inactivity are associated with cardiovascular risk. Evidence is limited for exercise effects on arterial health in children.
METHODS: One hundred and seventy-five inactive children with overweight or obesity (8-11 years, ≥85th percentile BMI, 61% female, 87% Black, 73% with obesity) were randomized to an 8-month daily after-school aerobic exercise program (40 min/day, n = 90) or a sedentary control condition (n = 85). Carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (PWV, primary outcome, arterial stiffness), fitness, adiposity, blood pressure (BP), glucose, insulin resistance, lipids, and C-reactive protein were measured at baseline and posttest (8 months). Adiposity, fitness, and BP were measured again at follow-up, 8-12 months later. Intent-to-treat analyses were conducted using mixed models.
RESULTS: The study had 89% retention, with attendance of 59% in exercise and 64% in the control condition, and vigorous exercise participation (average heart rate 161 ± 7 beats/min). Compared with controls, the exercise group had twice the improvement in fitness (VȮ2 peak, 2.7 (95% CI 1.8, 3.6) vs. 1.3 (0.4, 2.3) mL/kg/min) and adiposity (-1.8 (-2.4, -1.1) vs. -0.8 (-1.5, -0.1)%), each p = 0.04, and a large improvement in HDL-cholesterol (0.13 (0.075, 0.186) vs. -0.028 (-0.083, 0.023) mmol/L, p < 0.0001). There was no group × time effect on other outcomes at 8 months, or on any outcomes at follow-up. The change in PWV at 8 months correlated with changes in insulin and insulin resistance (both r = 0.32), diastolic BP (r = 0.24), BMI (r = 0.22), and adiposity (r = 0.18).
CONCLUSIONS: Eight months of aerobic exercise training improved fitness, adiposity, and HDL-cholesterol levels, but did not reduce arterial stiffness in children with excess weight. PWV improved as a function of insulin resistance, BP, BMI, and adiposity. Weight loss may be required to improve arterial stiffness. Exercise benefits waned after discontinuing the program.