It’s no secret that childhood obesity is a big problem in a lot of countries. And a new study has just lent more credence to this belief, as the summer break from school could mean a higher risk of unexpected weight gain for younger school-age children in particular.
According to Tucson.com (via HealthDay News), young children have a higher chance of becoming overweight or obese during summer vacation, based on a study involving more than 18,000 children tracked from the start of kindergarten through the final day of second grade. All in all, general overweight rates zoomed up from 23 percent to 29 percent from kindergarten to second grade, while childhood obesity rates were also higher, ticking up from 9 percent to 11.5 percent. What was most interesting, though, was how the increases in weight had taken place over two summer breaks, as opposed to the months when the kids were in school.
Study co-author Paul von Hippel, an associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement that summer break isn’t just a time when kids are at risk of forgetting what they learned in school, but also a time for them to put on the pounds.
“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 continued. “Our results also suggest that we cannot reverse the obesity epidemic if we focus only on what children are doing and eating while they are in school.”
In a separate report from the New York Times, von Hippel made reference to how schools have done their part to enforce healthier eating habits, but to little avail. He mentioned soda bans, changes to cafeterias menus, and greater emphasis on physical education and nutrition classes as programs that have made little progress overall in the battle against childhood obesity, despite their good intentions. Von Hippel also suggested that the best tools in fighting such an epidemic can be found outside the campus – he mentioned support from family members and summer fitness programs as two areas for improvement to this end.
Talking about the reasons why children may put on the pounds after school, the New York Times spoke with California-based pediatrician Dr. Natalie Muth, who mentioned a few variables that may lead to children becoming overweight or obese in the summer months. School lunches, for starters, may be healthier than the meals parents serve to their kids at home. She also noted that working parents may turn their kids over to their grandparents or other caregivers, who would tend to indulge children by offering food as a reward.
As the new study now joins the many suggesting children are at risk of obesity when out of school, Obesity Society spokeswoman Amanda Staiano chipped in with her own set of suggested tools to help kids stay in shape, especially during the summer months. She believes that parents should enforce sleep schedules in the summer similar to those during the school year, and also make sure their children spend less time in front of the television, computer, or mobile devices.
“We hope these findings galvanize efforts by parents, educators, public health advocates and officials to make sure that summer does not set back efforts made during the school year to not just teach our children, but to keep them healthy.”
In addition to all the above-mentioned suggestions, experts also believe that a child’s pediatrician may be the unsung hero in the fight against childhood obesity.
Speaking to the New York Times, Baylor College of Medicine assistant professor of pediatrics Dr. Teresia O’Connor expressed doubt as to whether parents are strict enough when setting parameters for their children during the summer months. She added that as a pediatrician, she and her fellow practitioners have started speaking with parents in the late spring months, advising them of how they help curb childhood obesity at home by “(helping) their (children) maintain healthy behaviors” all year round, instead of only during the school year.
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