Now that summer vacation is underway for students, the latest topic of conversation is recent research showing that children actually tend to gain more weight over summer months than they do during the school year. While I don’t have reason to dispute this, I am concerned about how this information may be utilized.
The argument goes like this: kids are gaining more weight when they’re at home (or at least not at school) so why are we bothering with school nutrition policies? Obviously, the food provided at schools is not the cause of childhood obesity. Obviously, we’re doing just fine as we are. The thing is, we’re not. Even with school nutrition policies there’s a plethora of “junk” food served to students on a regular basis. Some of these “healthy” foods fit nutrition policy guidelines others are available at special events, school trips, birthdays, school meal programs, etc. Even if these foods aren’t necessarily making children overweight it doesn’t follow that we should be serving them. School nutrition should not be solely focused on weight. Providing children with the best possible nutrition is essential for them to grow, develop, and learn. We have a duty to provide children with the best possible tools in life. Those tools include an understanding of nutrition and how to obtain and prepare healthy food. Why would we feel that it’s essential to provide every student with a computer or iPad and not a basic nutritious diet?
The other issue I wonder about is if this weight gain is necessarily indicative of overweight and obesity. Last time I checked, children were still growing. Couldn’t some of this weight gain be linked to growth spurts and healthy childhood development? Since the study mentioned focused on children in kindergarten and grade one, this seems even more plausible to me. Children often put on weight at about 6 years of age, prior to a growth spurt, and parents may mistakenly believe that their child is getting “chubby”. Yes, it’s a little odd that most of this weight gain occurred over the summer months but without a follow-up another couple of years down the road, I’m not convinced that summer eating is necessarily contributing to childhood obesity.
Yes, in a way, I agree with the final comment from one of the studies that, “Perhaps healthful policies in school, they wrote, should address the summer months as well.” I think that we need to to a better job of educating parents about the importance of good nutrition and a balanced diet. We also need to do a better job of educating students so that they’re better equipped to make healthy choices when they’re outside the confines of the school environment.