Interestingly, the benefits don’t include weight loss, according to researchers at The University of Sydney, in Australia.

First, the details.

  • 20 obese adolescents (BMI [body mass index] percentile of 98.6) were randomly-assigned to a treatment group for 3 days per week over 6 months.
    • Supervised kung fu
    • Placebo (tai chi) control group
  • Body composition was measured using anthropometry (size, weight, and proportions) and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA).
    • DXA is the most widely used to measure bone density measurement technology, but also measures total body composition and fat content.
  • Habitual physical activity and dietary intake were recorded by the children during the study.

And, the results.

  • Height, weight, total and lumbar BMD (bone minieral density), and lean mass increased in both groups.
  • There was a trend for increased whole body fat mass.
  • By contrast, percent fat and android fat mass via DXA did not increase in either group over time.
    • Android fat in the upper or central body is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in adults; and its suggested this relationship exists in children and adolescents.

The bottom line?

The authors were not surprised that the children continued to gain weight. They assign this “failure” to achieve what might consider an essential part of an exercise program for obese children to ongoing growth.

They counter, “The absence of a[n]… increase in central adiposity over 6 months could indicate a positive effect of participation in both programs.”

Other published results from this study, which is called the “Martial Fitness” study, show improvement in a range of parameters.

  • Significantly improved upper and lower body strength, and upper body muscle endurance with kung fu and tai chi.
  • Significantly greater improvements in cardiovascular fitness, lower body muscle endurance, and upper body muscle velocity with kung fu compared to tai chi.

Based on this research, parents shouldn’t be surprised when their obese children don’t loss weight while attending the kung fu dojo. However, they should expect kung fu to improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance in obese adolescents with low fitness levels.

8/28/10 15:32 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.