Effects of exercise in the treatment of overweight and obese children and adolescents: a systematic review of meta-analyses

J Obes. 2013;2013:783103. doi: 10.1155/2013/783103. Epub 2013 Dec 24.


Purpose: Conduct a systematic review of previous meta-analyses addressing the effects of exercise in the treatment of overweight and obese children and adolescents.

Methods: Previous meta-analyses of randomized controlled exercise trials that assessed adiposity in overweight and obese children and adolescents were included by searching nine electronic databases and cross-referencing from retrieved studies. Methodological quality was assessed using the Assessment of Multiple Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR) Instrument. The alpha level for statistical significance was set at P ≤ 0.05.

Results: Of the 308 studies reviewed, two aggregate data meta-analyses representing 14 and 17 studies and 481 and 701 boys and girls met all eligibility criteria. Methodological quality was 64% and 73%. For both studies, statistically significant reductions in percent body fat were observed (P = 0.006 and P < 0.00001). The number-needed-to treat (NNT) was 4 and 3 with an estimated 24.5 and 31.5 million overweight and obese children in the world potentially benefitting, 2.8 and 3.6 million in the US. No other measures of adiposity (BMI-related measures, body weight, and central obesity) were statistically significant.

Conclusions: Exercise is efficacious for reducing percent body fat in overweight and obese children and adolescents. Insufficient evidence exists to suggest that exercise reduces other measures of adiposity.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Overweight / therapy*
  • Pediatric Obesity / blood
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Pediatric Obesity / therapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Weight Loss