School’s Out! Summer Poses Challenges, Opportunities for Kids’ Nutrition

June 19, 2007

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

Summer is here and the living is easy! What’s not to love about summer? Well, for many children, it is the addition of unwanted extra pounds.

The April 2007 edition of the American Journal of Public Health reported on a study designed to determine whether school or non-school environments contribute more to children becoming overweight by comparing children’s gains in body mass index (BMI) when school is in session (during the kindergarten and first-grade school years) with their gains in BMI when school is out during summer vacation. 

The study found that “growth in BMI was typically faster and more variable” during summer break than during the school year.

The results also showed that the gain was particularly acute for three at-risk subgroups: black children, Hispanic children, and children who were already overweight at the beginning of kindergarten.

Summer can be a challenging time for families with limited resources.

With school closed, many low-income children aren’t able to get a free or reduced price school breakfast or lunch. Family food dollars must be stretched even further, leaving many children at risk of hunger or inadequate nutrition. As Rochelle discussed at HSC’s blog last week, unhealthy food is often less expensive than healthy food.

In The New York Times article “When School Is Out, Getting Good Food In,” Jane Brody provides some great ideas for promoting nutrition to children during the summer.

Sadly, though, not all families have the resources to take advantage of Brody’s suggestions. Many families instead rely on government-sponsored summer food programs.

During the summer, The Food and Nutrition Division of the USDA operates the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This program began in 1968 in response to concerns that children who depended on school lunches for adequate nutrition did not have enough food in the summer.

Program sponsors (school districts and community organizations) typically establish meal sites in neighborhoods where more than half the families have low incomes. These sites often provide other activities, such as sports or recreational programs, arts and crafts, or summer school classes. In general, any child can come to a site for meals; no individual income eligibility test is required.

Our hope is that these SFSP sites across the country will take advantage of summer’s bounty – fresh fruits and vegetables  – and that students across the country take advantage of this program. It’s time to ensure that summer is no longer the season of unwanted weight gain among young school aged children.