Stuffing Chips - © Michael Moss - Salt Sugar Fat Book

Kids Pack On The Pounds Over Summer Break

We kind of already knew this. Some of us, who have susceptible kids, anyway. An Australian study confirms that there (and, we can assume, everywhere), kids tend to gain weight over their summer vacations. It’s all about the basics…

Recipe for Obese Kids - ©

Researchers from  the University of South Australia (UniSA) – whence come so many socio-dietary studies these days – have another one for us. Even though it really just confirms something we already knew. Kids tend to get fat over their summer holidays. Some more than others. Period. Full stop.

[Editor’s Note: The seasons are ‘reversed’ in Australia. Their ‘December’ is our ‘June’!]

What they did

A team from UniSA’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity team, ran a program they called the ‘Life on Holidays’ study. It’s sole aim was to assess changes to children’s fitness and fatness during the holidays.

It’s a real concern down under. In Australia, one in four children and teenagers  (25 percent) are overweight or obese. Globally, more than 124 million children and adolescents (6 percent of girls and 8 percent of boys) are obese. Given that basis for comparison, the Aussies have a real problem on their hands. Imagine the costs to the national health care system – especially once these fat kids grow up into fat adults!

It was the first study of its kind outside of the US.

What they found

The study found that young children (in Grades 4 and 5) expended significantly less energy during holidays than during the school year.

Specifically, the children:

  • slept 12 minutes less per day
  • spent 12 minutes less per being physically active
  • spent an additional 70 minutes per day on screen time.

At the same time:

  • Children’s body fat increased at a greater rate
  • Aerobic fitness declined faster than during the in-school periods

“Like all of us, kids (and their parents) deserve some holiday downtime, but the way they spend their time on holidays is very different from the school term – and in ways which [are] not always good for children’s health,” Lead researcher, UniSA’s Professor Tim Olds says.

The takeaway

“It’s not surprising to find that kids get fatter at a faster rate on school holidays compared to [during the] school term, and lose a lot of fitness.” Olds observes. “If kids spent the whole year on holidays, their percentage of body fat would increase by about 4 percent more each year than if they had no holidays, and their fitness would decline by about 10 percent each year.”

Team member Dr. Dot Dumuid says that one solution could be for Australia to adopt the American institution of summer camps and holiday programs to improve kids’ use of time during vacations.

My take

I was surprised to hear that they don’t have ‘summer camp’ in Australia. And, yes, I think it would help a lot of kids stay more active and get healthier. K couldn’t help but be more active, burning more Calories during the summer if they went to camp.

But how about summer sports programmes? Soccer is big down under. There are other popular sports and related activities. I suggest Dr. Dumuid include those those in his recommendation, as well.

But the huge thing for me was how many fat kids they have in Australia.

Then I looked up the stats for my country. Canada’s official Public Health website says more than 30 percent of kids aged 5 to 17 are overweight or obese. That was a shocker.

The figure for the US is now more than 20 percent. So Australia’s 25 percent really just represents an average of all three countries.

Clearly, we all – collectively as a society -have to get off our puffy duffs and do something about overweight and obesity!

~ Maggie J.