March 1, 2007 in Nation/World

Kids gain weight during summer break

Rick Callahan Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS – The nation’s schools – under fire for unhealthy school lunches, well-stocked vending machines and physical education cuts – may actually do a better job than parents in keeping children fit and trim.

A study found that 5- and 6-year-olds gained more weight over the summer than during the school year, casting doubt on the assumption that kids are more active during summer vacation.

The findings don’t reveal what’s behind the out-of-school weight gain, but the researchers speculate it’s because the summer months lack the structure of the school year with all its activities and daily comings and goings.

Doug Downey, an Ohio State University sociologist who co-authored the study, said that for many youngsters, the lazy days of summer may offer plenty of free time to eat snacks and lounge about watching TV or playing video games.

He said the study seems to point to the need for parents to be more involved and may raise the idea of a longer school year and more after-school programs to keep children active.

For the study, Indiana University and Ohio State researchers studied the growth rates of the body-mass indexes of 5,380 kindergartners and first-graders. The data came from a National Center for Education Statistics survey that ran from fall 1998 to spring 2000 in 310 schools across the country.

The university sociologists discovered that the youngsters’ BMIs increased on average more than twice as much during summer break compared with the school year. That increase was even greater among black and Hispanic students and kids who were overweight at the start of kindergarten.

Once kids were back in school, however, the monthly growth rate of their BMIs fell, and the growth rate gap between the overall population and the minority and overweight groups shrank, the researchers found.

The study will appear in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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