Is Summer An Obesity Villain?

A study undertaken by the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University found that in the summertime, kids eat fewer vegetables and consume sugar-sweetened beverages at a rate that averages out to three extra ounces per day, which can add up. Also, when school is out, kids watch an additional 20 minutes of TV per day. (Only 20 minutes? That is a counterintuitive finding.) According to that particular study, the summer-versus-school amounts of physical activity undertaken by the kids seemed pretty much the same.

Meanwhile, the obesity epidemic thrives. If we call it the childhood obesity epidemic, we may be kidding ourselves, because the wording implies that it might be something they will grow out of — like the old “baby fat” trope.

The thing is, in far too many cases, there is no outgrowing it. A fat baby predicts a fat child, and to a much greater extent, a fat child predicts a fat adult. This is everybody’s obesity epidemic.

The idea that the hot season can be harmful is not a new one. Quite some time ago, Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website asked a poll question: “Do you tend to gain weight or lose weight during the summer?”

Well over half — 58% — of the kids who responded said they gained weight. Boredom was mentioned as a factor. Also years ago, Dr. Paul von Hippel determined that children gain weight three times faster during summer vacation.

As Childhood Obesity News has mentioned, the recommendation made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regarding the amount of physical activity kids should partake in, amounts to an hour a day of exercise. This doesn’t mean just walking, either. To make a difference, it should be the kind of exercise that gets the heart pumping and causes the person to almost feel out of breath.

For, Mark Huffman notes that it doesn’t need to be a consecutive hour, but can be done in bits and pieces. He reviews the American Heart Association’s guidelines, which include limiting children’s screen time to two hours per day. This presumably includes all kinds of electronic viewing, from watching cartoons to playing video games. He quotes two other recommendations:

Introduce new games to a group of children. When kids learn the rules of a game at the same time as their peers, they’re more confident and are more likely to participate.

Keep it fresh. Don’t get stuck in a workout rut. Try and incorporate a new exercise or game every few weeks to keep kids motivated.

It seems obvious that there should be more summer programs in parks, more camps, more sports to keep kids active, because such activities improve not only their physical health but their cognitive abilities. As always the question is, who pays?

Experts also hope that parents will do their part by stocking up on vegetables and fruits, and keeping homes free of junk food. One of the most important tips heard from many sources is the recommendation to push water, especially as a substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity-related behaviors increase when school’s out,”, 07/14/15
Source: “Summer has become a season when kids pack on the pounds,”, 07/21/15
Photo credit: David Robert Bliwas via Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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