Examination of muscle morphology and neuromuscular function in normal weight and overfat children aged 7-10 years

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018 Nov;28(11):2310-2321. doi: 10.1111/sms.13256. Epub 2018 Jul 26.


Neuromuscular function in young overweight/obese (OF) children is not well described.

Aim: This study examined isometric and isokinetic leg extensor strength, muscle size (mCSA) and tissue composition as measured via echo intensity (mEI), and motor unit (MU) firing rates in normal weight (NW) and OF children aged 7-10 years.

Methods: Fourteen NW (eight girls and six boys, BMI: 15.8 ± 1.4 kg/m2 ) and 15 OF (10 girls and five boys, BMI: 20.8 ± 2.3 kg/m2 ) children volunteered to perform this study. Percentage body fat (%BF) was measured, and mCSA, mEI, and subcutaneous fat (sFAT) of the vastus lateralis (VL) was assessed. MU mean firing rates (MFRs) in relation to recruitment threshold (RT) of the VL were assessed during submaximal isometric contractions. Maximal isokinetic contractions were performed at 1.05 and 4.20 rad/s. The 95% confidence intervals (CI) from the statistical tests are presented.

Results: The OF children had greater %BF (95% CI = -15.1 to -7.2), mCSA (95% CI = -4.1 to -1.2), mEI (95% CI = -22.3 to -5.9), and sFAT (95% CI = -0.5 to -0.1), greater rate of strength loss with increasing isokinetic velocities (95% CI = 0.4 to 5.4), and a smaller range of MFRs (95% CI = 0.007 to 7.136) at the steady torque than the NW children.

Conclusions: The OF children had poorer muscle tissue composition, greater velocity-related impairments in muscle strength, and a smaller range of MFRs at the targeted torque that may suggest altered MU recruitment strategies. Interventions in OF children should include exercises and recruit higher-threshold MUs, such as high-intensity resistance exercises.

Keywords: childhood obesity; musculoskeletal; obese; overweight; youth.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Adiposity
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction
  • Male
  • Muscle Strength
  • Overweight / physiopathology*
  • Quadriceps Muscle / physiology*
  • Quadriceps Muscle / physiopathology*
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological*
  • Subcutaneous Fat / diagnostic imaging
  • Torque
  • Ultrasonography