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The effects of a gymnastics program on early childhood body composition development



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The dramatic rise in health care and economic costs as well as increases in morbidity and mortality related to lifestyle behaviors and non-communicable diseases have resulted in an increasing emphasis on research and intervention initiatives aimed at primary prevention. As there is growing evidence that the antecedents of adult diseases such as obesity and osteoporosis have roots in early childhood, physical activity interventions in early childhood (4 to 6 years of age), which has been identified as a critical period, may influence the development of fat and bone mass at this young age and have a potential impact on adolescent and young adult health status and thus improve population health. The intent of this study was to investigate the effects of structured physical activity, specifically early involvement in gymnastics, on early childhood body composition development.Sixty three (25 male and 38 female) 4 to 6 year old children participating in gymnastics programs were compared to 95 control (49 male and 46 female) children. Anthropometric measurements included height, weight, BMI, waist circumference, and skinfold thickness. Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) was used to measure whole body bone density and fat mass. Physical activity, physical inactivity, dietary intake, and birth weight of the participants as well as parental heights and weights were also obtained. No significant differences were found, at any age, between the groups in height, weight, BMI, waist circumference, skinfold thickness, physical activity, physical inactivity, dietary intakes, and birth weight or in parental heights and weights (p>0.05). Additionally, there were no significant differences in fat and bone parameters once the confounders of age and size were controlled (p>0.05). This investigation found that young children entering a gymnastics program did not differ in either bone mass or fat mass compared to controls. This was surprising as differences in these parameters have been found in adolescent gymnasts. Thus my results indicate that the potential effects of gymnastics training may have not yet manifested themselves. To answer this question longitudinal measures are required to ascertain whether the body composition differences observed in adolescent gymnasts are due to prolonged exposure to gymnastics involvement.



bone mineral content, bone mineral density, young childhood, preschool, BMI, physical activity, fat mass, Gymnastics



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


College of Kinesiology


College of Kinesiology



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