Subscribe to Obesity Panacea
Subscribe to Obesity Panacea
Subscribe to Obesity Panacea by mail

Muscle Beach for kids: a cure for childhood obesity?

Monday, January 19, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD
This weekend I read a study just published in the January 2009 edition of the American Journal of Public Health, regarding the effects of a community based intervention program in Brazil aiming to increase the physical activity levels of the population. The Academia de Cidade program (ACP), which was started by the local government in Recife, Brazil offers free exercise classes in 21 public spaces throughout the city such as parks, beaches and recreation centers for all the local residents each day from 5 - 9 a.m. and from 5 - 9 p.m. The recently published study, which evaluated the program, found that such programs provide an “effective public health strategy to increase population-level physical activity in urban developing settings.”

This study also reminded me to discuss something interesting I saw in Israel on a past trip. While touring the city of Eliat, at the southernmost tip of Israel, on the red sea, I came across what can only be described as Muscle Beach for kids. For those who missed that prior reference – Muscle Beach is an outdoor weight-lifting facility in Venice Beach, California, where Arnold Schwarzenegger trained back in his steroid-fuelled prime. As I found out first-hand on a trip to California, at Gold’s Gym, you can hoist dumbbells, get a great tan (with a little bit of heat stroke), and even get your picture taken by the passing tourist (who obviously can’t recognize a fellow tourist).

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw what can only be described as Muscle Beach for kids on the main waterfront boardwalk in Eliat. As you can see in the following pictures, this gym houses basically every major piece of exercise equipment, but in miniature. All of the machines use your body weight as resistance, so no need for dumbbells or weights – a likely hazard for kids. Having individually tried every one of the machines (with pictures to prove it), I have to admit they provided a fairly significant resistance.

Most surprising of all, however, was the fact that during the day this kinder-gym was absolutely packed with kids. I remember reading somewhere that interventions which aim to turn obese kids into lean kids by forcing them to exercise in the same structured manner as adults is not likely to be effective. So you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw all these kids pumping iron by the beach.

I wonder if this concept could provide an alternative strategy to curb the childhood obesity rates in other countries, such as Canada and US – particularly in the southern states, where the weather is more agreeable year-long.


Enjoyed this story? Share it with your friends by clicking the buttons below!

Twitter Facebook Digg It! Stumble Delicious Technorati

To get future posts delivered directly to your email inbox or to your RSS reader, be sure to subscribe to Obesity Panacea.
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Response to "Muscle Beach for kids: a cure for childhood obesity?"

  1. Ayala Laufer-Cahana M.D. Said,

    Glad to read about the Eilat "beach gym". I saw these exercise playgrounds in Tel-Aviv last fall, all over the beach promenade, and there were people using them day and night.

    While it would be great to have active playgrounds, and that could get kids running, what I think is even more lacking is pavements/sidewalks. Many American suburbs don't even have pavements, and therefore kids can't even walk.

    Let's get them walking before we get them lifting weights.

    Posted on January 19, 2009 at 11:05 AM

  2. Yoni Freedhoff Said,

    Hey Peter,

    I can't remember if we talked about this in Phoenix or not but I have major concerns with the concept of exercise based interventions with weight related end points.

    I'm unaware of any exercise based intervention in children that has had a dramatic and lasting positive effect on weight, this despite reams of attempts (please correct me if you're aware of any). Therefore it's a fair bet in Vegas that interventions geared on increasing activity in children are going to have very little impact on their weights.

    My worry therefore is that two things will happen as a consequence of a continued focus (whether that focus be true study design or even blog headlines) on exercise as a cure/treatment for obesity.

    Firstly we will be taking research dollars and throwing them at studies and interventions that statistically are almost certain to fail - this draining the pot of research dollars for obesity interventions.

    Secondly we will be discounting the importance of exercise interventions as true determinants of health with end points that are in fact improved such as blood pressure, cholesterol, cardio vascular fitness etc.

    I know you're a big fan of ParticipACTION. Of course during it's 30 years of airtime obesity rates in children rose by 300% in Canada.

    Bottom line for this longwinded comment - I think exercise-only interventions for obesity are unethical as we know the outcomes will be dismal; and that having dismal outcomes for exercise interventions may make people less likely to promote exercise as they're not looking at the appropriate endpoints which do in fact improve.

    Let's promote exercise for health's sake, not weight's.

    Hope all's well Peter - great work on your blogging,

    Posted on January 19, 2009 at 3:19 PM

  3. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc Said,

    Thanks for the comment Ayala.

    While I was in Tel Aviv the weather was very miserable so I never got to see the exercise playgrounds there. I had erroneously assumed it was exclusive to Eilat.

    Posted on January 19, 2009 at 6:29 PM

  4. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc Said,

    Hi Yoni,

    Thanks very much for the thoughtful comment.

    As I have written in a couple of review papers, and have recently blogged about, I completely agree with the contention that focus on weight as the primary outcome in lifestyle based obesity interventions is myopic and misguided. Individuals of all sizes, and ages, can vastly improve their health without a noticeable budge in their scale weight. Thus, true treatment benefit (on lipids, insulin sensitivity, BP, etc.) may be masked by an apparent resistance to weight-loss. This lack of weight change will likely be interpreted by the individual as a treatment failure causing them to discontinue the healthy behaviors.

    There has been a long held notion that exercise interventions are not as efficacious in reducing body weight or fat mass as are dietary ones. Unfortunately, these conclusions developed predominantly from a rather unfair comparison of studies: as an example, comparing weight loss of a dietary intervention reducing daily caloric intake by 700kcal versus an exercise intervention which increases energy expenditure by 300kcal per day. You can well guess who the winner was…

    However, in a 2000 study from our lab (Annals of Internal Medicine), we directly compared the efficacy of diet versus exercise to reduce weight, fat mass, etc. after controlling for the caloric deficit created (fair comparison). In that study, over the 3 month intervention, individuals lost about 7-8kg, regardless of the intervention (diet or exercise). Thus, it is not completely fair to say that exercise will not result in meaningful weight loss – WHEN it is done in appropriate volume. Of course, the obvious caveat here is that it is much easier to reduce caloric intake by 1000 kcal than to expend that much via physical activity. Thus, for practical reasons, diet is the cornerstone of obesity treatment.

    A second caveat to all of this discussion is the notion that in comparison to efficacy studies (like the one I just described from our lab), effectiveness trials of lifestyle intervention (whether diet or exercise or both) generally show some positive impact on weight in the short term (~ 6 months) and then the weight begins to creep back. So we know if someone lives in a laboratory and does exactly the prescribed exercise, or has their caloric intake restricted – they will lose weight – regardless of treatment. However, when that individual is told to do the same behaviours out in the real world – they rarely result in a meaningful and long-term effect on weight.

    Thus, research funding would be well spent in trying to address these failures of real-life lifestyle interventions – we know when done properly both exercise and diet can result in significant weight loss, not to mention many more relevant health benefits – but how can we get people to perform these behaviours?

    In the end, I think the key point to reiterate, as you alluded to Yoni, is that the focus on weight-reduction alone in lifestyle interventions is incorrect. This is particularly so given that most people grossly overestimate what amount of weight-loss is necessary to improve health – likely due to watching people drop hundreds of pounds on “The Biggest Loser”. In that scenario – failure is almost inevitable. Shift the focus from the outcome (i.e. weight) to the healthy behavior (i.e. balanced diet and physical activity) and maybe you increase the chances of long-term lifestyle change…

    Thanks again Yoni – I hope you are enjoying the comparatively balmy weather we are now experiencing (-10 degrees C - bring out the shorts!).


    Posted on January 19, 2009 at 9:48 PM


Blog Archive

Recent Posts

Peter's Travel Adventures on PhD Nomads

About Us

We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

Donate To Obesity Panacea