Children are more likely to become overweight or obese during summer vacation than during the school year, a new U.S. study suggests.
The national study of more than 18,000 school children found that from the autumn start of kindergarten to the spring of second grade, the prevalence of obesity increased from 8.9 to 11.5 percent. During that same period, the proportion of overweight kids climbed from 23.3 to 28.7 percent.
Weight gain occurs during summer vacation, not the school year
None of these gains in numbers of obese or overweight kids happened during the school year, however. All of the increases in what’s known as body mass index (BMI) – a measure of weight relative to height – occurred during summer vacations.
The structured nature of the school day, with its scheduled exercise periods and limited opportunities to eat, helps students maintain a healthy BMI, said the researchers from the University of Texas, Austin.
They speculated that many non-school environments are relatively unstructured and unsupervised, allowing children to indulge in sedentary activities and excessive snacking.
To assess the influence of school attendance on child obesity, researchers examined data on kids’ height and weight at the beginning and end of each academic year from the fall of 2010 until the spring of 2013.
At the start of kindergarten, 23 percent of the children were overweight and 9 percent were obese.
During each of the two summers in the study, the proportion of overweight and obese kids increased by approximately one percentage point per month.
There were no meaningful increases in the numbers of overweight or obese kids during the academic year.
This doesn’t prove summer vacations cause obesity, but the findings suggest major risk factors for putting on too much weight during childhood exist outside of schools.
During vacations, risk factors for weight gain include getting less sleep, watching more television and exercising less than during the school year.
Summer vacation like one extra-long weekend
Studies that have compared weekends to school days have found that children sleep less and have more variable sleep, are less physically active, more sedentary, and consume unhealthier diets on weekends.
Parents should be thoughtful about the potential for rapid weight gain to occur during the summer, say experts.
Finding ways to help kids find routine, decrease calorie-dense food choices, get better sleep, avoid screen time and get out and be active would be helpful.
Kids should be encouraged to get at least an hour of exercise a day, limiting screen time to less than two hours a day, and keeping televisions and tablets out of kids’ bedrooms, all year round.
Source: Obesity, online November 2, 2016.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.