Summer vacations represent a privileged time for children, offering them the freedom to play, explore and relax. However, it seems that these vacations can also be conducive to the adoption of obesogenic behaviors in children, with adverse consequences for their health. Several studies have concluded that children put on more weight during the summer vacations than during the school days.
To better understand this phenomenon, Australian researchers have compared the physical activity and eating habits of 133 children, between school year periods and summer holidays. Children wore accelerometers, reported activities and parents reported child diet at five time points over the 2 years capturing school and summer holiday values. Mixed-effects models were used to compare school and summer holiday behaviors (1).
Life on holidays: a longitudinal study among children
The “Life on Holidays” project (4) is a longitudinal study, analyzing children’s (aged from 6 to 12 years) behavior during the summer vacations and school-time. Questionnaires, tracking devices and mobile applications were used to collect data on eating habits, physical activity and sleep quality over two years capturing school and summer holiday values.
The aim of this study was to better understand the impact of summer vacations on children’s health, and eating and physical behaviors.
Summer vacation versus the school year
During the summer vacations, children are mainly less subject to strict routines, such as school schedules and planned meals.
This can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, with less regular physical activity. Children tend to spend more time in front of screens, playing video games or watching TV, to the detriment of physical activity. The findings of the current study align with previous studies that have found children spent more time on screens during the summer holidays compared with the school year (2-4). The presence of the 6-h school day limits recreational screen time opportunities to mainly before, after school, and on weekends. With the exception of school-related activities, the largest difference in activity behaviors between the summer holidays and school year was for screen time: children spent 39% more time using screens during the summer holidays than during the school year.
Children’s eating habits can also change during the summer vacations. Children had poorer diet quality in the summer holidays but with no significant change in energy intake. They consumed less fruit, vegetables, and more added sugars during the summer holidays versus school time (2). Mealtime routines could also be disrupted, with irregular mealtimes and frequent snacking. The lack of a difference in energy intake, given the lower level of physical activity and higher sedentary time, signals a potential risk of positive energy balance in the summer holidays.
Extra vigilance on screen time
The conclusions drawn from this research underscore the need for action and greater awareness of the impact of summer vacations on children’s health. The study provides some evidence that children engage in less healthful activity and diet behaviors in the summer holidays, compared with the school year, suggesting also that the school day may regulate children’s obesogenic behaviors. According to the researchers, school environment shapes healthier diet and activity behaviors, particularly screen time. They recommend that screen time be a target for intervention in the summer holidays
“Findings from this study suggest that the school environment shapes healthier diet and activity behaviors, particularly screen time – Watson A., et al, 2023”
Find out more: read the original article
(1) Watson A., Maher C., Golley R., Dumuid D., Manson A., Tomkinson G., Fraysse F., & Olds T. (2023). Children’s activity and diet behaviors in the summer holidays versus school year. Pediatric obesity, 2023, 18(7).
(2) Wang YC, Vine S, Hsiao A, Rundle A, Goldsmith J. Weight-related behaviors when children are in school versus on summer breaks: does income matter? J Sch Health. 2015;85(7):458-466.
(3) Weaver RG, Armstrong B, Hunt E, et al. The impact of summer vacation on children’s obesogenic behaviors and body mass index: a natural experiment. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2020;17(1):153.
(4) Watson A, Maher C, Tomkinson GR, et al. Life on holidays: study protocol for a 3-year longitudinal study tracking changes in children’s fitness and fatness during the in-school versus summer holiday period. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):1353.
For more information; some ideas and tips to keep healthy and tasty snack during the year and summer break:
- Switching to nutrient riche foods for a healthier diet
- Healthy swaps with yogurt
- Yogurt and fruits : the winning combination