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Socially Isolated Kids Exercise Less, Could Increase Obesity Risk

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Does your kid feel left out? That social isolation may affect more than his or her mental health -- it could also increase obesity risk.

That's the premise of a new study in Pediatrics, which found that children who felt ostracized were less likely to be active during a free gym period. The danger, of course, is that this sort of ostracization feeds on itself: as we know, heavy children are picked on, and therefore less likely to get moving, which contributes to greater weight gain.

To study the effects, researchers had 11 boys and eight girls, between the ages of eight and 12, participate in a computer game that simulated catch. Each child played "catch" with other two children, whom they couldn't see, over the Internet. In half of the sessions, one child was excluded from catching the ball while in the other sessions, each child received the ball equally. Every child experienced both scenarios -- having the ball and also being excluded. Subsequently, the group was brought to a gym where they could choose between active and sedentary activities for a 30-minute "free period" akin to recess. Their physical exertion was measured with an accelerometer and researchers observed them to determine sedentary activity.

The researchers found that children who had been excluded from catch spent 41 percent more time engaging in sedentary activities than did children who were included in the ball game. They also had 22 percent fewer accelerometer counts.

While the sample was small, the implications are pretty big. "These findings are worrisome," wrote study author Jacob E. Barkley, a researcher at Kent State University. "The lack of physical activity and engagement in sedentary behaviors in children and adolescents are concurrently and prospectively related to obesity and other health difficulties."

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