Genes, exercise, growth, and the sedentary, obese child

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2008 Sep;105(3):988-1001. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00070.2008. Epub 2008 Jun 5.


It is still not possible to provide an evidence-based answer to the question of whether regular exercise is essential for normal growth. It is also unclear whether very low levels of exercise result in growth deficits. Regular exposure to exercise is characterized by heterogeneity in responsiveness, with most individuals experiencing improvements in fitness traits but a significant proportion showing only very minor gains. Whether a sedentary mode of life during the growing years results in a permanent deficit in cardiorespiratory fitness or a diminished ability to respond favorably to regular exercise later in life remains to be investigated. Although several genes have been associated with fitness levels or response to regular exercise, the quality of the evidence is weak mainly because studies are statistically underpowered. The special case of the obese, sedentary child is discussed, and the importance of the "energy gap" in the excess weight gain during growth is highlighted. Obese, sedentary children have high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, elevated glycemia and type 2 diabetes, hepatic steatosis, respiratory problems, orthopedic complications, and other health disorders more frequently than normal weight, physically active children. The role of genetic differences in the inclination to be sedentary or physically active is reviewed. An understanding of the true role of genetic differences and regular exercise on the growth of children will require more elaborate paradigms incorporating not only DNA sequence variants and exercise exposure but also information on nutrition, programming, and epigenetic events during fetal life and early postnatal years.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development*
  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular System / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Exercise*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Phenotype
  • Physical Fitness
  • Respiratory System / physiopathology
  • Weight Gain / genetics