Expert: Activity Dips, Weight Creeps up in Summer

photo of kids playing in field

July 14, 2017

July 14, 2017 — The summer slide isn’t limited to academics, according to a nationally-known expert who delivered a keynote presentation Friday on childhood obesity at UNC’s Physical Activity Leadership Academy.

University of South Carolina Associate Professor Michael Beets told an audience of over 100 educators that K-12 schools are providing enough activities during the school year that promote fitness. Once summer hits, the three-month hiatus can “undermine efforts during the nine-month school year.”

Absent structured physical activity during the school year through activities such as P.E., recess and organized sports, students left to their own devices during summer break can struggle with accelerated weight gain.

Beets challenged the notion that schools aren’t doing enough during the school year to provide opportunities for physical activity. To the contrary, the literature he cited shows the nation’s nearly 70 million K-12 students all benefit. For students at a normal weight, physical activity programs in schools provide prevention strategies while for overweight and obese students the programs provide treatment, he said. “Everyone is subject to unhealthy weight gains during the summer, though,” he added.

Therefore, the conversation should shift from pushing more interventions during the school year to focusing on increasing access to opportunities in the summer. He points to studies that show students who attend summer camps, regardless of whether they’re academic-driven or sports-focused, are more active and keep their weight in check.

The challenge is those opportunities can be cost-prohibitive. Of the nearly 70 million students nationwide, only 14 million of them attend camps and few of them are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, according to Beets’ data. To address that, he advocates working with foundations and organizations to provide vouchers and scholarships to students who can’t afford registration costs.

Beets’ talk was part of UNC’s Physical Activity Leadership Academy. The halfday event also featured discussion of two Colorado schools that have integrated physical activity into their school culture under the guidance of UNC’s Master of Arts in Teaching Physical Education and Physical Activity graduates from UNC. 

The Academy was sponsored by The Colorado Health Foundation, Innovation@UNC grant, UNC’s Extended Campus. It helped usher in UNC’s Bear Physical Activity Week (PAW) weeklong camp for K-5 youth to come to campus for fun-filled, standards-based movement lessons taught by UNC Master’ of Arts PAL in training.

Related story: UNC Helping Build a Model for Healthier K-12 Schoolchildren