Children are likelier to gain more weight when they are on summer break compared to when they are in school, researchers have found.
For a study published in the journal Obesity, Paul von Hippel and Joseph Workman observed more than 18,000 kindergarten students over the course of two years and discovered that obesity levels didn't increase at all while they were in school.
The researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to follow kindergarten students in 2010 until they reached second grade in 2013. The children's heights and weights were measured in school every spring and fall, and Von Hippel and Workman estimated growth in the subjects by assessing for mean BMI and obesity and overweight prevalence every summer and during the year.
The study was carried out to assess weight gain risk factors for both times children are in and out of school. Von Hippel said that educators generally worry that summertime leads to a loss in knowledge but their research has confirmed that it's also a time of excessive weight gain for children.
"Our findings raise questions for parents and policymakers about how to help children adopt healthy behaviors during the long summer vacation to stop unhealthy weight gain," he said, adding that addressing obesity in children will not be possible if the focus is just on what children do and eat when in school.
Based on their findings, the researchers saw that obesity rose from 8.9 percent to 11.5 percent while overweight cases jumped from 23.3 percent to 28.7 percent between the time the children started kindergarten and ended second grade. However, none of the increases were incurred while the children were in school, but just during the two summer breaks during the study period.
Health Risks In Children
According to the American Heart Association, just 1 percent of American children between 2 and 19 years old meet its definition of ideal cardiovascular health for the age group, no thanks to poor diet and sedentary lifestyles, which also contribute to rising obesity cases.
Obesity has been linked with a number of health conditions, including eight more cancer types. This brings the total number of cancers associated with excess weight to 13.
Addressing Childhood Obesity
According to The Obesity Society spokesperson Amanda Staiano, now that that summer vacation has been determined to hold potential as a time for weight gain for young children, parents can make the active effort to reduce obesity and overweight risks during the school break.
However, keeping children fit and healthy is not all on parents. The researchers also called on schools to carry out programs that will develop the right out-of-school behaviors in children to keep excess weight at bay. For instance, schools can promote summer camps to keep children active.