Well, this is awkward. A longstanding parental theory about when our kids are most at risk for putting on an unnecessary pound or two seems to have been sort of…backwards. Children seem to be beefing up during the summer vacation and not during the cold, dark, classroom-bound winter months.
Despite the lure of Halloween candy and Christmas treats, elementary school children actually gain weight faster over the summer, a study finds.
If you remember your childhood summers as filled with running around outside and doing cannonballs off the diving board, that may sound improbable. But a study published in Obesity on Wednesday is only the most recent research to show that the summer vacation is the danger zone for childhood obesity, suggesting that interventions need to move beyond what goes on during the school day.
The latest study looked at a nationally representative sample of 18,170 kids and tracked the changes in their body mass index, or BMI, from the start of kindergarten in 2010 through the end of second grade. Researchers found that over that period, the prevalence of obesity increased from 8.9 percent to 11.5 percent, and the prevalence of overweight increased from 23.3 percent to 28.7 percent.
All of that increase occurred during the two summer vacation periods, not during the three school years. Previous national and local studies point to the same trend.
“It really doesn’t appear that schools were ever the problem,” says Paul von Hippel, an associate professor of public affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and an author of the study. Yet the conversation about combating childhood obesity often centers on schools, from cafeteria lunches to physical education to vending machine snacks.
Those soda machines that used to be in schools seem to have not had anything on the Costco-stocked refrigerators at home during the summer months. We’ve been demonizing all of the wrong things.
It’s tempting to blame a lack of activity in the video game era but I started thinking about my own long-ago youth. I was never what you would call svelte when I was a kid. Not super heavy, but rather pudgy until I was a senior in high school, when the last growth spurt I’d ever have helped even things out. I distinctly remember two times when I gained more than a few pounds in a short period of time, and both of them happened during the summer. I was on vacation each time. The first was a driving trip with my grandmother, and the second was a visit to my great-grandmother.
You do the grandmotherly, “Here honey, eat more…” math.
Great, now I’m hungry for Polish food.