In a recent study published in the Journal of School Health, a team of researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that children on summer break consume more sugar, eat fewer vegetables and watch more television compared with the rest of the year, regardless of family income.
Data from the study was sought from the U.S. children in grades 1-12 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2008. The team of researchers included a total of 6,453 children and young people who were surveyed during school year or during school break.
To estimate consumption of calories, in their analysis the researchers included the variables: number of cups of vegetables consumed, teaspoons of added sugar and total calories consumed per day.
Exercise patterns, screen time and any changes over the summer vacation were compared. The researchers also compared the eligibility criteria for receiving free or reduced price school lunch and the households above and below 185% of poverty,
“Although obesity-promoting behaviors are generally more common during the summer break, the differences in obesity behaviors between income groups were not exacerbated during the summer break, said Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD, associate professor of Health Policy and Management and co-director of the Mailman School’s Obesity Prevention Initiative.
Results revealed that students at all grade and income levels did not meet the recommended daily exercise, the amount of vegetable intake, the consumption of sugar and all students were found to surpass the recommended amount of time watching television while on summer break. Data was compared with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines.
During summer time, the researchers found that students watched television for more 20 minutes a day and consumed three ounces more sugar during summer break compared to the school year. Regarding exercise, the results were not that pronounced, as students were found to engage in 5 more minutes of exercise during the summer than during school year.
Students in high school were found to exercise more during the summer than during the school year, however, still below government recommendations. The researchers found that students from higher-income families partake in more vigorous activities over the summer break than during school year. Teenage girls from lower-income families were found to exercise less over the summer break, with less moderate-to-vigorous exercise.
“The school environment remains essential for shaping healthy eating and active living behaviors, and schools can play a leadership role in fostering a healthy transition from the school year to summer breaks,” suggested Dr. Wang. “We see from our results a need for school-based obesity prevention efforts to go beyond the school day and the school year.”