Summer Weight Gain in Kids

Obesity rates actually go up in the summer. Here's how to stop the spike.

Mother and two kids playing in park
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It sounds crazy, but summer is actually a risky time for weight gain in kids. "Many children finish the school year in June fitter and leaner than when they go back to school in August," says Lara Dugas, PhD, a physical activity epidemiologist who has studied childhood obesity.

During the school year, kids tend to eat and and exercise on a more regular schedule, explains Dugas, who is an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

When school is in session, kids may walk or bike to school, run around with friends during recess, participate in after-school sports, and so on. Being busy in the classroom keeps them from grabbing snacks all day long.

Summer Risk Factors and Fixes

Too much unstructured and unsupervised time can mean too much sedentary time. If no one's around to make sure they're being active, it's easy for kids to default to lazier pursuits. To reduce this risk, plan ahead for an active summer. Sign kids up for day camp, sports camp, or swim lessons.

If those aren't affordable, or available to kids your child's age, some creativity is in order. Could your child do some volunteering that keeps him busy and active, babysit for a younger child, or even work as a pet sitter/dog walker? Does his school, or your city parks and recreation department, offer inexpensive summer enrichment programs that incorporate physical activity?

For kids of all ages, you could consider a family activity challenge, to make sure everyone is getting some daily exercise. This is especially true if your child is a middle-schooler. That's the age at which kids' fitness levels tend to drop, according to studies of health-related fitness data—and it's when they're too old for child care and camp.

Too much screen time. Limits on TV, tablet, and computer time are super important in the summer, with so many hours of free time to fill! Whether your children are in your own care, someone else's, or on their own, stress the importance of keeping screens off as often as possible.

Never-ending snack time. I've seen this in my own kids, and often asked the question posed in this Parents magazine blog post: Must summertime be a food free-for-all? The opportunities for snacking are pretty much endless, and even though fresh produce abounds, so do ice cream and other frosty treats. To combat this, keep healthy snacks handy at home and on-the-go; enforce a smart snack policy for sports teams; and pack and shop wisely when you travel. Planting a garden is another way to encourage kids to snack wisely and get some physical activity at the same time.


Bai Y, Saint-Maurice PF, et al. Prevalence of Youth Fitness in the United States: Baseline Results from the NFL PLAY 60 FITNESSGRAM Partnership Project. The Journal of Pediatrics Vol 67 No 2, August 2015.

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