Autumn Surprise

Now that school is back in session and Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is coming to a close, many parents have noticed that their children grew over the summer, and not in a good way. Somehow, parents manage to fool themselves about a number of things, and to form a mental expectation that it is easier for kids to stay fit during the summer break, but that is not necessarily true.

Sadly, during the hot months, obesity prevention does not just take care of itself. How can this be? Health Digest News broke it down:

During the school year, many students walk to school, go to gym class, play outside at recess and participate in after-school sports. They are allowed to eat only during designated times, and typically find little or no junk food in modern-day school cafeterias and vending machines…

But during the summer months, many children have relatively little structure or supervision. This is especially true in low-income households that can’t afford summer camps. Consequently, kids get less exercise and may have unlimited access to junk food all day long.

All in all, summer vacation can be a recipe for extra pounds, and many young people return to school in worse shape that when the previous term ended. The tradition of buying new back-to-school clothes is not just based on the natural growth we expect from children, but on the unfortunate tendency to put on extra weight.

It is not solely an American problem. Lauren Ferri wrote for Daily Mail Australia about how the summer break, which is only six weeks long, might be shortened even more because of the obesity problem. According to researchers, kids sleep longer, spend more time communing with electronic screens, and eat more, in comparison to their behavior during the school term.

The daily averages — an additional 40 minutes in bed; an extra hour of TV or computer entertainment; a 10-minute reduction in physical activity time; an extra 100 calories of food intake — do not sound that alarming in themselves, but they add up.

Professor Tim Olds, of the University of South Australia, says the extra weight does not come off when school resumes, and the situation is even worse for low-income families who can’t afford to send their children to summer camp or sports programs.

Conditions are much the same here. So now, the children of America are back in their classrooms and settling into the routine. Can parents heave a sigh of relief? No. A little while back, these words, spoken by mother of five Lyn McDonald and captured by journalist Jacque Wilson, would have been typical:

I have had to deal with teachers who hand out Skittles, candy bars, lollipops and giant frosted sugar cookies to the children in class… before 10 a.m. I think this is setting kids up for failure and un-teaching the healthy habits I have instilled.

Sports practice, which should be a positive step toward obesity prevention, is often spoiled by the unhealthful quality of treats dispensed by parent volunteers. And, of course, in the area of snack and soda availability, either in the institution itself or uncomfortably nearby, some schools never got the memo, and others made a stab at reform and then gave up.

During the Michelle Obama “Let’s Move!” era, some of the more egregious school-connected behaviors were dampened down for a while, but nobody seems to be paying much attention these days.

The point here is that parents, alas, still bear the responsibility for eternal vigilance. We can’t count on the schools to fix things, or the school vacations, either.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood Obesity Spikes During Summer Months,” HealthNewsDigest, 07/20/15
Source: “More school days to fight obesity,”, 09/29/18
Source: “Why is it So Hard for Kids to Lose Weight?,”, 02/16/12
Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys on Visualhunt/CC BY

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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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