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South Carolina: Researcher Uses NIH Grant to Understand Causes of Accelerated Weight Gain among Children During Summer Vacation

Dr. Michael Beets, a children’s health researcher in the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, has been awarded a five-year grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. He will use the grant to study the etiology of accelerated weight gain during summer versus the school year.

“Summer vacation represents a 3-month window of time youth spend away from the daily responsibilities and scheduled demands experienced during the 9-month school year,” Beets says. “Only recently has the change in summer behavior patterns been suggested to have a potentially negative impact on the health behaviors of youth.”

Previous research has demonstrated that children gain three to five times more weight during summer vacation than the amount gained during the 9-month school year. Further, fitness gains achieved during the school year are often lost over the summer months.

There is limited evidence, however, with regard to what children eat and drink, the types of physical activity opportunities they are given, and the amount of screen-time and sleep — two important correlates of weight gain — they engage in during the summer months. Among various demographic segments, children from ethnic-minority and low-income households appear to be most at-risk for unhealthy weight gains.

“Despite decades of attention to youth obesity and associated health behaviors, very limited attention has been given to the health effects of summer vacation,” Dr. Beets says. “We need research that investigates what youth do outside of the school year, the location of these activities, and the foods/beverages consumed.”

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