Youth weight gain over summer break

Summer weight gain can unravel youth obesity prevention efforts.

A current research study suggests that the summer months may undermine youth obesity prevention efforts. Freedoms that many adults may remember from their childhood summers such as riding bikes to the corner store, walking to the local swimming hole, actively playing outdoors with neighborhood friends are less common among today’s youth.

During the academic school year, most family schedules revolve around organized eating, sleeping and physical activities largely associated with school sports or after school physical fitness programs. Academia has become more pro-active in advocating for youth health education relating to curriculums, improvements to school lunch programs and a stronger emphasis on students daily physical activity.

Active Living Research recently published a research brief that studied differences in weight change during the summer versus school year in 3,588 elementary-age children. Results showed evidence that children gain more weight during their summer vacation than they do during the entire school year, and some studies also find that the fitness gains children achieve during the school year are erased over the summer months.

Weight gain during summer

  • Recent systematic reviews concluded that during summer vacation children gain up to three times as much weight as they do during the entire school year.
  • While all youth tend to gain weight over the summer, youth of African American and non-white Hispanic backgrounds, and youth who are already overweight may at increased risk for excessive summertime weight gain.

Fitness and physical activity decreases

  • Studies of children participating in two types of school based fitness intervention show that the children lost the cardiovascular fitness improvements they had gained during the school year by the time they returned from the subsequent summer vacation.

Poor dietary habits

  • A study on the types of foods and beverages children bring to summer day camps for lunch and snacks found that almost half of the children brought both sugar-sweetened beverages (such as non-100 percent juice drinks) and chips. Only one-third of children brought fruits, and almost none brought vegetables.

The study concluded that youth participants weighed more and were less fit at the end of summer than they were before summer started. This is surprising because children should have more free time to be physically active, and fresh fruits and vegetables are in season during the summer. Although youth obesity and associated health behaviors have received significant attention in recent years, very limited attention has been given to the effects of summer vacation.

These types of studies can help us identify the most effective strategies to slow down the excessive weight gains currently observed during summer so our children can maintain a healthy weight, and live long, healthy lives!

For more on health, nutrition and developing healthy summer eating habits for your family, visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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