The summer months should be a time when children are especially active, play sports, enjoy the outdoors, and perhaps even eat better because there are more occasions for family dinners. In other words, it should be a time when they are their healthiest. Not so, a new study found. In fact, it is during school vacations that many kids put on extra pounds, according to scientists from Harvard University who took a closer look at the phenomenon.
For their research, they analyzed several studies on weight gain among children ages 5 to 17, and found on average a faster rate of weight increase during vacation times compared to the rest of the school year.
Most vulnerable were youngsters who already struggled with weight issues. Their weight accelerated the fastest while they were out of school.
Obviously, there are no simple answers to why this is happening, said Rebecca Franckle, a doctoral student and research assistant at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study report, to HealthDay Reporter.
It’s possible that children have more opportunities to be sedentary while they stay at home. Especially kids who live in unsafe neighborhoods may be spending more time watching TV or playing video games. Or perhaps, it’s a lack of structure when they are not having classes and other activities, and they get bored, passing the time with snacking. Lack of supervision in the daytime hours may also play a role.
The researchers noted that weight gain took place more predominantly among poor minority children.
“There may be a trend in increased rate of weight gain during summer school vacation, particularly for high-risk groups, including certain racial/ethnic populations and overweight children and adolescents,” wrote Ms. Franckle in her report.
Although the nutritional quality of school breakfasts and lunches has often been the target of criticism, for many poor children those are the only substantial meals available to them all day. During vacations, that security net is absent. Fast food and snack items are oftentimes the only alternatives, which, of course, is detrimental to their health.
Without greater access to recreational facilities, physical activity programs, and summer food programs, the resulting weight gain may further exacerbate health disparities between poor children and their better-off peers, Ms. Franckle suggested.
The effects of these trends are serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity rates have more than doubled among children and quadrupled among adolescents in the United States over the past 30 years. One third of children and teenagers are now overweight or obese.
Recent studies found that serious health complications can come from weight problems at young ages, including diabetes, heart disease, and liver damage. It will take enormous efforts on behalf of the youngest victims of the obesity crisis to turn these developments around.