Children’s Health: Step counters help teenagers battle fatty liver disease

Exercise program allows kids with the obesity-related condition to lose weight and improve their health

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A simple pedometer can help overweight teenagers walk their way to better health, a Canadian study has shown.

Diana Mager of the University of Toronto studied 14 children, average age 15 years, who had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), an obesity-related condition in which fat builds up in the liver. “Childhood obesity has tripled in the last decade due largely to decreases in physical activity. This has led to the emergence of NAFLD,” Mager says.

At the beginning of the study, the children walked an average of 4,000 to 8,000 steps per day, which is considered a sedentary lifestyle. Seven of the children were obese, six overweight and one normal-weight.

Mager and her colleagues advised the children on how to increase their steps by 2,500 per day to a maximum of 15,000 per day, and they had the children wear pedometers, or step counters, for six weeks to estimate the steps they actually took. The children were asked not to change their eating habits during the trial.

The children’s average number of steps increased by 37 per cent over the six weeks, and they met the goal of 15,000 steps per day in just over five weeks.

Over the six-week period, the children lost an average of 37 per cent of their body fat. Half the children also lost about two per cent of their body weight. The seven children who lost weight had improvements in metabolism and reductions in levels of fat particles in the blood, as well as suggestions of an improvement in liver function.

Mager notes the seven children who lost weight had achieved more than 16,000 steps per day by the end of the study.

“Pedometers offer a simple, reliable and effective way to improve metabolic and liver function in overweight and obese adolescents with NAFLD,” she says.