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Research / Discovery

Professor hopes to prevent childhood obesity and injury with a physically proactive approach

October 23, 2013

Thorsten Rudroff in the Department of Health and Exercise Science is investigating the sharp decline in physical activity in children during puberty.

Thorsten Rudroff, a recent addition to Colorado State University's Department of Health and Exercise Science faculty, is investigating the sharp decline in physical activity in children during puberty.

With implications for long-term health, strength, and potential injury, a study recently published by Rudroff reveals a significant gender gap in activity during these formative years. He's found that while most children experience this decline in physical activity, there is also a dramatic difference between girls and boys, with girls becoming even less active than boys during and after puberty.

Rudroff's study showed there are no differences in neuromuscular function between boys and girls before puberty. With the onset of puberty, however, there is a change in boys and girls in the form of a greater decline in physical activity in girls as compared to boys. 

"This decline in physical activity is strongly associated with neuromuscular function," Rudroff said. As an example, he said that, "Girls with less leg strength have a greater decline in physical activity."

Differences in boys and girls

In his latest publication, Rudroff compares associations between neuromuscular performance and physical characteristics with the level of activity engaged in by boys and girls during the initial stages of puberty.

There was only one other factor that also contributed to a decline in physical activity: the amount of body fat children had, which also disproportionately impacts girls more than boys.

"Girls increase their body fat during puberty; this also has a negative impact on physical activity," Rudroff said.

Rudroff's next plan is to do a longitudinal study where he'll start experiments before puberty and follow subjects over five years to investigate the amount of physical activity they engage in and what changes during this time.

Start training early to avoid injury

"One thing I want to show is that it's very important to come up with some strategies to exercise even before puberty, such as strength training in boys and girls," Rudroff said. "This would be the best time to counteract the decline in physical activity; not wait until puberty is over or the onset of puberty, but start as early as possible with neuromuscular training, especially in girls."

This is important to not only minimize the risk of obesity in children, but also to decrease injury risk, especially in girls, who are at a higher risk for injuries after puberty because of an attenuated development of the neuromuscular system. For example, ACL tears in females from playing basketball and soccer are very common, he says

If children are proactively counteracting the decline in physical activity associated with puberty by strength training to improve neuromuscular function, then their risk of injury and their potentiality for obesity can be stymied. It's important to not only be reactive to injury and obesity, but to also proactively try to prevent such occurrences with increases in physical activity before and during puberty.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is part of the College of Health and Human Sciences at Colorado State University.

Contact: Gretchen Gerding
Phone: 970-491-5182