Background: Overweight and obese children and adolescents face many physical and psychosocial hardships. Resistance training is a modality of exercise which allows this at-risk group to excel and therefore has the potential to positively affect not only their physical but also psychosocial health.
Objective: To systematically review and meta-analyse the peer-reviewed literature to determine the effect of resistance training on the strength, body composition and psychosocial status of overweight and/or obese children and/or adolescents.
Data sources: Relevant databases (MEDLINE, Embase, Scopus, Web of Science, SPORTDiscus, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Cochrane library, ProQuest) were searched up to and including 30 January 2013.
Study selection: Included studies (n = 40, from the 2,247 identified) were randomised controlled trials (RCTs), non-randomised controlled trials (NRCTs) and uncontrolled trials (UCTs) which had run an exercise intervention, with a resistance training component, for overweight and/or obese children and/or adolescents, and which had examined the effect of resistance training on either strength, body composition or psychosocial outcomes.
Study appraisal and synthesis methods: Studies were initially critically appraised for risk of bias by the lead author, following which both co-authors critically appraised five randomly selected studies to assess reliability.
Results: Randomised controlled trials and NRCTs were analysed separately from UCTs. To determine the overall intervention effect for each outcome variable for each study design group, standardised mean differences were calculated with each individual study/data set weighted by the inverse of the pooled variance. The overall intervention effect reported for RCTs and NRCTs was relative to the control group whereas the effect reported for UCTs shows an overall post-intervention effect. Subgroup analyses, which determined whether the overall intervention effect was influenced by intervention type, training volume, age, sex, risk of bias or study design (for RCT/NRCT group only), were run using the same summary measure. Typically, resistance training had very small to small effects on body composition and moderate to large effects on strength in favour of the intervention. However, the magnitude and direction of the effect of resistance training on psychological outcomes are still unclear given the limited number of studies which looked at psychosocial outcomes and the inconclusive results shown by this review. Uncontrolled trials typically showed larger intervention effects than RCTs and NRCTs; however, these results may be greatly influenced by maturational changes rather than the intervention itself.
Limitations: The included studies employed a number of different exercise intervention types (e.g. resistance training, resistance plus aerobic training etc.) that ranged from 6 to 52 weeks in duration. Studies also employed a number of different methodologies to assess similar outcome measures (e.g. dual energy X-ray absorptiometry versus skinfolds to assess body composition; one-repetition maximum testing versus hand grip strength to assess strength). However, by completing subgroup analyses and using a standardised summary measure these limitations have been accounted for.
Conclusion: While the effect of resistance training on the body composition and strength of overweight and obese children and adolescents is clear, given the paucity of conclusive data more studies are needed to fully understand the effect of resistance training on the psychosocial status of this population.