Children may be at a higher risk for packing on extra weight in summer &
a season that traditionally has been prime time for outdoor exercise, researchers say.
Overall, one in four Oregon eighth- and 11th-graders is overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Poor children may be especially at risk.
Many parents worried about the safety of their children keep them indoors while they are at work. Then the kids eat and drink what they want, says Dr. Jennifer Bass, a Kaiser pediatrician who chairs a national pediatricians special-interest group on obesity.
Bass recalls one 6-year-old whose older sibling baby-sat her while her mother worked. Neither was allowed outside while their mother was away. Even at 6, the child was obese.
"I said, 'So what are you doing?' " Bass recalled. "She said, 'I'm watching a lot of TV.' I said, 'Ideally, it would be good to limit it to one or two hours a day.' And they were just laughing at me."
Bass estimates as many as 30 percent of her patients are overweight.
"What fills up all those extra hours?" Bass said. "Often it can be TV or video games."
The summer weight gain was noted in one new study by researchers in the Midwest who looked at body mass index, which relates height to weight. They followed 5,380 students for two years, from kindergarten through first grade, and found the average index grew more than twice as quickly over the summer than during the school year.
The health consequences of childhood obesity are significant, said Daniel Marks, an Oregon Health Science University pediatric endocrinologist who studies and treats obese children.
Many of his patients come with orthopedic problems, Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea, he said. The youngest child referred to him for morbid obesity was not quite — year old.
"I, of course, see the worst of the worst," Marks said. "I'm really starting to see children, even under the age of 10, developing diseases that would usually be seen in adults."
Supporters of an Oregon bill that requires schools to offer physical education within the next 10 years heralded it as a victory in the fight against childhood obesity. But school-year interventions may not be enough. Like kids across the country, Oregon children revert to sedentary behavior during their unsupervised summers.
"They're not being monitored. That goes with today's times," says Kimra Hawk, a registered dietitian at Providence St. Vincent's Hospital. "It's not like when their parents were young and could be sent outside all day to play."
Warning: Summer may be fattening