Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas may be the prime times to fill up on food, drinks and treats, but a study finds that children are actually more likely to gain weight during the summer, not the winter.
This new research is the latest among others that have studied childhood obesity and weight gain. Its results back others that point to summer vacations as the most potent time for childhood obesity, and suggesting that there needs to be more efforts to combat the issue outside of school.
The researchers examined a nationally representative sample of 18,170 kids and monitored the changes in their body mass index, or BMI, from kindergarten in 2010 until the end of second grade. They found that in that time period, the chances of obesity increased from 8.9% to 11.5%, and the prevalence of overweight rose from 23.3% to 28.7%.
These jumps occurred during summer vacations, not during the school years. Other previous studies have pointed out the same trend, NPR reports.
Paul von Hippel, a co-author on the study and an associate professor of public affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, says,
It really doesn’t appear that schools were ever the problem.
But the fight against childhood obesity seems to be almost always centered on cafeteria lunches, vending snack machines or physical education subjects.
Though the study did not come up with definite causes, there are many possible reasons why kids gain more weight over the summer. Jennette Moreno, a clinical psychologist at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine, has done some research on the issue. She says kids appear to sleep less during the summer, or have more disrupted sleep-wake patterns, which in turn could lead to a higher BMI. Moreno, who was not involved in the study, says, “My hypothesis is that without the structure of school, kids are going to bed at irregular times and parents are more relaxed about enforcing bedtimes. As a result, children’s sleep and circadian rhythms are disrupted.”
A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says kids often spend more time playing video games or watching on screens in the summer, which is linked to a higher risk of obesity.
Von Hippel suggests that summer camps and summer educational programs may provide a way to reduce the chances of obesity during the hot season, with projects aimed at lowering risk factors.
The study was published in the journal Obesity.