While summer vacation may mean freedom from books and teachers to school children, it also brings with it an increased risk of excessive weight gain, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its journal Preventing Chronic Disease. Study findings showed that minority groups and youngsters and teens who were already overweight or obese were most likely to gain weight during the summer.
In a Harvard-led review of previous research, Rebecca Franckle, MPH, doctoral student and research assistant at the department of nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, and her team analyzed data from seven studies.
In all, the studies included over 10,000 American, Canadian and Japanese students between the ages of 5 and 17. Six of the seven studies reported substantial weight gains for at least a portion of the population.
“The majority of the studies we looked at demonstrated that, for at least some of the children, there was a risk for accelerated weight gain during the summer months,” Franckle told Health Day. “And the risk was particularly high among those who were already overweight, and also among blacks and Hispanics.”
The study authors found the seasonal pattern of weight gain striking, but since none of the studies explored the reasons why certain children and adolescents gained weight, they could only speculate on causes. Less structure, extra snacks, boredom and time spent in sedentary activities such as playing video games and watching TV are possible contributing factors, they noted.
In addition, Franckle pointed to the positive influence the school environment exerts by providing meals that do not promote unhealthy weight gains and opportunities for physical activities.
“We know racial and ethnic minority kids, as well as overweight kids, are disproportionately represented in low socioeconomic status groups. So that would be the case that kids of lower [socioeconomic status] would have less access to healthy environments during the summer,” said Franckle.
With nearly one-third of U.S. children and adolescents either overweight or obese, it is important to stem weight gains during the summer. Children who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for chronic health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.
One way to reduce unhealthy weight gains during the summer, Franckle told U.S. News and World Report is for schools to consider joint-use agreements that would open their facilities to surrounding communities during the summer months or initiate summer meal programs.
“At a high level, we really just want to make sure all kids have access to healthy environments. Right now we can all think about – at the community level and the policy level – just making sure that all kids have access to healthy environments to continue that positive growth we’re seeing during the school year,” said Franckle.