Parents Not Keeping Kids Trim Once School Ends
> 3/2/2007 10:35:03 AM

Schools have been an easy target for advocates looking to point fingers in the fight against childhood obesity. Funding cuts and curriculum changes have eliminated physical education and even recess in many areas. Cafeterias have also shouldered their fair share of the blame, forcing changes in offerings. New research by a group of sociologists from Ohio State and Indiana Universities has found that kids actually gain more weight when they're not in school.

The team looked at data on 5,380 kindergarteners and first-graders, examining how their BMIs changed during the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort. Over the course of the two year period that they analyzed, the researchers found that the children's BMI grew at faster and more variable rates during the summer than when they were in school. There were three subgroups that they found to be in particular danger of gaining BMI over the summer: Black children, Hispanic children and those children who were already overweight when the study began.

Speaking to AP, Betsy A. Keller, a professor of exercise and sport sciences at Ithaca College in New York, states the most obvious question raised by this news:

"The big question in my mind is what are the parents doing with these kids during the summer? Unless they’re paying attention to their child’s level of activity and diet, with each passing summer they’re just adding to the risk of them becoming overweight," she said.

On average, it would appear, parents are doing a much worse job of keeping their children fit than are the much-maligned schools. Several months back, the APA called for increased playtime for children, especially unstructured play. They cited the mental health benefits that this could have for children, but they could just have easily have been discussing the physical benefits that this play bestows on children.

Even on its most tedious and boring days, the school environment applies order and structure to children's time. They move around, they interact and, most importantly for the purposes of this post, they burn calories. A summer where parents don't provide any of these things, can for all intents and purposes, be a lazy waste of good health. By encouraging even the most unstructured of free play, parents would be encouraging physical activity, which can never be a bad thing for children.

A little while back we wrote about the responsibility that parents, as the sole purchasers of food for the household, have for teaching healthy eating habits to their young children. We could very easily post those same conclusions here, replacing eating habits with exercise habits. With young children its certainly not important to drill the fundamentals of long distance running, but they could benefit greatly by simply learning habits of an active lifestyle. Build time into every day to go outside and throw a frisbee, kick a ball or jump rope. Sign kids up for summer programs at the local rec center, make them help weed the garden or even just take a walk. The type of activity isn't nearly as important as the fact that there is a physical activity. And just because they're on "vacation" doesn't mean they should eat like they're on vacation, so it'll certainly help to keep the McDonald's and Cheetos to a minimum.

This research highlights once again the fact that fitness and healthy behaviors begin in the home. Sure we can make schools healthier places for kids to grow up, but by instilling the right attitudes about physical activity and proper diet in the home, good parents can counteract any potential harm that a soda from a school cafeteria could ever do.

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