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When you think of kids and summer, what are the first things that come to mind? How about the beach, swimming, games, ice cream, catching fireflies, and summer camps? All of these things (well, except for ice cream) imply being physically active; however, reality paints a different picture of what the majority of children are up to during the summer vacation months.
Per the CDC, obesity rates have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years. Many people think that school nutrition is to blame. However, more recent research has been pointing the finger elsewhere. Researchers have categorized a child’s year into school months and vacation months in order to investigate exactly when children were gaining the most unnecessary weight. Various studies ranging from 2007 to 2013 have shown that the rate of weight gain in children tends to double during the off-months, and decrease or return to normal during the school year.
This observation of accelerated weight gain is a multi-factorial mystery that begs follow-up questions. Researchers have speculated as to the potential causes by noting the differences in environments. The school environment is fairly structured, with healthful meals at consistent times. Schools provide children with activities and opportunities for exercise, and they are directed to a lifestyle that demands a consistent sleep schedule, as school starts at the same time every morning. On the other hand, unstructured vacation months allow for sleeping in and welcome potentially unlimited access to unhealthy snacks. This can lead to additional calorie consumption, especially when children are bored. Unstructured or less carefully monitored environments such as vacation times have been correlated with accelerated rates of weight gain for adults too (as you probably know)! See Tips for Keeping Your Kids Fit and at a Healthy Weight.
Although the statistics show that children tend to gain more unnecessary weight during summer vacations, they are not doomed by the stats! By understanding the factors that help children maintain a healthy rate of growth during the school year, parents can guide their children through a healthful, active, and fun summer vacation.
So What Can Parents Do?