Can Yoga Benefit Overweight Children? A Scientific Study

Would it shock you to know that 15% of adolescents and 30% of children are considered overweight?

It worries many experts as these numbers continue to grow in size along with our children. Sadly, overweight children most often become overweight adults. That old saying, "it's baby fat and you'll grow out of it'', is no longer true.

There are many reasons for being overweight, but the most common are as follows:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Fat-full foods are available everywhere and are relatively cheap
  • Stress; either at home or at school
  • Emotional eating (a condition that often appears in children of divorced parents)
  • Parents who don't eat right
  • Increased time spent watching TV, playing video games, or being on the computer

Being overweight can cause many health problems such as:

  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Low self esteem
  • Diabetes

Of course, exercise is necessary when it comes to weight loss, but working out is easier said than done. Usually, overweight children don't want to exercise. This isn't because they're lazy, it's usually because they're not as good at sports as some of the other children and they're terrified of being picked on.

But whatever the reason, an overweight child can feel defeated when it comes to any kind of sports often before they even begin. But don't despair. There is hope.


Your Child Can Lose Weight and Gain Self-Confidence with Yoga

A recent study from the University of Texas has proven that this is true. This is actually the first published study that pairs the problem of childhood obesity with yoga as a solution.

In a landmark study conducted by of Dr. Sandra Benavides from the University of Texas, it has been proven that Ashtanga yoga can help children lose weight. Ashtanga yoga is considered an aerobic activity, so much so, that it has been called the 'power yoga'.

Yoga appears a good exercise for overweight children because it can be done in private, is noncompetitive, and is far less strenuous than most other sports. It has also been known to have a calming effect on people.

The Experiment Begins…

Now, you may be wondering who these children are and why they were chosen. These children were between the ages of 8 to 15 and were otherwise chosen based on a variety of risk factors for diabetes according to the American Diabetic Association guidelines. These risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Having an overweight relative with diabetes
  • Being of Hispanic or African-American descent

Once the 20 children were chosen, they were given an introductory lesson of the yoga along with their own yoga mat. Their height, weight, BMI, (body mass index, a measurement of body fat based on weight and height) and body chemistry levels were recorded. Body chemistry included cholesterol levels (both good and bad), triglycerides and glucose (sugar) levels.

The Experiment Continues…

Similar to other yoga types, Ashtanga yoga connects postures known as “asanas,” with breathing techniques, known as “pranyamas”. In this study, the participants did a modified Ashtanga yoga sequence that initially was not as strenuous so that fatigue or injury, which would lead to dropouts, would be avoided.

The reason that Ashtanga yoga was chosen was because of all the yoga types, Ashtanga yoga is the most aerobic. It is in fact so aerobic that it is known as the "power yoga".

75 minutes of yoga, three times a week for 12 weeks, was the exercise program devised for the children. Each session was lead by the same instructor and ended with the traditional deep breathing exercises of yoga - 5 to 10 minutes of focusing on 'nothing but the breath'.

The participants did not change their diets nor did they incorporate any exercise workouts, apart from yoga, in the daily schedule.

And the Winner Is… The Children

With results like the following, it's obvious why the children are considered the 'winners' of this experiment.

  • The average weight loss was 4.4 pounds
  • The BMI went from 26,4 kg/m2 to 25,6 kg/m2
  • The mean baseline weight went from 134.6 lbs to130.2 lbs
  • One young girl, of 13 years, lost 13 pounds
  • Abnormal lipid panels evened out and became more normal
  • The amount of good cholesterol increased
  • The bad cholesterol decreased
  • Based on tests, 4 children showed higher levels of self-esteem at the end
  • None of the children showed greater levels of anxiety and a few had their anxiety lessened by yoga

Even with all this good news, there was a little bit of bad news too. Three of the children actually experienced a lower level of self-esteem than they had in the beginning. Dr. Benavides, principal investigator of the study, explains that this could be due to the fact that the 'asanas’ of yoga can be difficult to achieve if you're not used to them.

Some of the poses challenge your flexibility. It's quite possible, that when these children saw they were not as flexible as their peers, and therefore not so good, they became depressed. However, proper yoga poses can be learned and achieved with enough practice.

Yoga is more than just achieving proper poses. It's about improving your capabilities but also accepting your own limitations.

Even among the children who experienced slight increase of depression none of them actually had an increase in anxiety.


This research investigation by Sandra Benavides is a unique study. It’s the first one to show that yoga can be effective in helping children lose weight. With an average weight loss of 4,4 pounds in 12 weeks being right in line with the recommended weight loss for children, yoga is as good as any other programs available according to reviews on diet programs.

It's very important that overweight children find a way to control their weight. Since these children turn into heavy adults, dropping the weight now, in childhood, leads to a longer and healthier life for them in adulthood. Aerobic activity is the key to weight loss. This is why the yoga type chosen for this experiment was Ashtanga (power) yoga, as it is the most aerobic of all.

Yoga is effective in balancing out the body's chemistry, as shown by the fact that various blood factors such as sugar, LDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, HDL (good cholesterol) were all within normal levels.

Yoga has also been proven to relieve the symptoms of people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In addition, it helps with increased confidence and lowers depression levels. This could be due to the calming effect of yoga.

Averaging 4.4 lbs over the 12 week period, yoga becomes a very viable alternative for overweight children.

Yoga in Schools

Yoga in Schools

Via goop.com

Someday, perhaps a much larger study will be done that will remove all lingering doubts from every skeptic. As for now, for most of the medical community, there is strong evidence that yoga can improve people’s lives and children’s health.

Even the Board of Education has realized that yoga is an activity with potential benefits for children, both overweight and not. This is why a YogaEd program is currently being implemented in the USA school system.

It is important to note however, that this study involved overall healthy individuals and there have currently been no studies done regarding yoga and people diagnosed with severe medical conditions.

Read the scientific study that found how Yoga improves health in obese boys here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3394919/

Matt Constas is a medical researcher and writer with an interest in obesity and children’s health issues. Yoga is a fast growing area of research, and he feels that more attention should be paid to the concepts contained within it. In his spare time, Matt contributes to Lodlois and Fitij, two sites that offer Nutrisystem coupons and BistroMD coupons to people who want to lose weight with a clinically proven program. Nutrisystem is a food delivery weight loss program designed by people who have over 40 years of experience in this field. BistroMD is a meal delivery program endorsed by Dr. Phil in his famous TV shows.

Nancy Moore

Hi, everyone! My name is Nancy Moore and I am the founder and creator of Fitnessgrams. I created Fitnessgrams to be a haven for people looking to get fit, boost their health, lose weight, or improve their well-being. Here you will find experiences, workouts, information from the experts, healthy living tips, and tools to find well-being and balance.

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