Childhood Obesity Increases During Summer Breaks

Childhood Obesity Increases During Summer Breaks

New national study raises questions about how to reduce 

unhealthy child weight gain during school breaks

Allison Templet, The Obesity Society,

For Immediate Release: November 3, 2016

NEW ORLEANS, LA: Children are at greater risk of gaining unhealthy amounts of weight during summer vacation than during the school year, according to a new study published in the Obesity journal. Researchers studied more than 18,000 kindergartners over two years and found that obesity increased only during the two summer vacations, and not at all during the school years. The results are being unveiled at the Obesity journal symposium at ObesityWeek℠, the annual conference of The Obesity Society (TOS), Oct. 31 – Nov. 4, 2016. 

“Educators have long worried that summer break leads to knowledge loss, and now we know that it is also a time of excessive weight gain for our youngest school children,” said Paul von Hippel of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin, who conducted the research with Joseph Workman of the University of Oxford. “Our findings raise questions for parents and policymakers about how to help children adopt healthy behaviors during the long summer vacation to stop unhealthy weight gain. Our results also suggest that we cannot reverse the obesity epidemic if we focus only on what children are doing and eating while they are in school.”

Between the start of kindergarten and the end of 2nd grade, obesity increased from 8.9 percent to 11.5 percent of children, and overweight increased from 23.3 percent to 28.7 percent. None of the increase happened during the school years; all of it happened during the two summer breaks.

“Now that we have solid data pointing to summer vacation as a time for potential weight gain in young children, the next step is to work together to shape out-of-school behaviors,” said Amanda Staiano, PhD spokesperson for The Obesity Society and Assistant Professor at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “Parents can take some simple steps to help their children like sticking to a school-year sleep schedule and reducing screen time.”

But parents cannot solve the problem alone. The study authors suggest that to reduce the increase in childhood obesity and overweight, school-based programs should try to shape out-of-school behaviors as well as preserve improvements made to school meals and physical activity during the school year. They suggest testing additional interventions outside of school to see what works best, but could include:

  • Limited child-directed food marketing
  • Promotion of out of school activities like summer school
  • Increased attendance at summer camp
  • Parental nutrition education.

“We hope these findings galvanize efforts by parents, educators, public health advocates and officials to make sure that summer does not set back efforts made during the school year to not just teach our children, but to keep them healthy,” said Dr. Staiano.

Abstract and author contact information are available below.

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Outside Expert

Amanda E. Staiano, PhD, MPP, The Obesity Society spokesperson and Assistant Professor &Director of Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center


Contact:, 225-763-2729

LSU Contact: Alisha Prather,


Paul von Hippel of University of Texas, Austin


Full paper available here:

From Kindergarten Through Second Grade, U.S. Children’s Obesity Prevalence Grows Only During Summer Vacations



To assess the relative importance of school and non school risk factors, we estimated whether overweight and obesity prevalence grow faster during the school year or during summer vacation.


In the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten cohort of 2010–2011, a nationally representative complex random sample of 18,170 U.S. children was followed from the fall of kindergarten in 2010 through the spring of second grade in 2013. Children’s weight and heights were measured in schools each fall and spring. We used a multilevel growth model to estimate growth in mean BMI, overweight prevalence, and obesity prevalence during each summer and each school year.


From the fall of kindergarten to the spring of second grade, the prevalence of obesity increased from 8.9% to 11.5%, and the prevalence of overweight increased from 23.3% to 28.7%. All of the increase in prevalence occurred during the two summer vacations; no increase occurred during any of the 3 school years.


The risk of obesity is higher when children are out of school than when they are in.


Von Hippel PT, Workman J. From Kindergarten Through Second Grade, U.S. Children’s Obesity Prevalence Grows Only During Summer Vacations. Obesity. 2016.

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About ObesityWeek 2016
ObesityWeek is the premier, international event focused on the basic science, clinical application, prevention and treatment of obesity. TOS and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS)host the world’s pre-eminent conference on obesity, ObesityWeek 2016, Oct. 31 – Nov. 4, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. For the fourth year, both organizations hold their respective annual scientific meetings under one roof to unveil exciting new research, discuss emerging treatment and prevention options, and network and present. Connect and share with ObesityWeek on Twitter and Facebook, or by using #OW2016.