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Ending Summertime Weight Gain for Washington Youth

By Matt Watrous, executive director, Boys & Girls Clubs in Washington State and Cherie Skager, executive director, The Hope Heart Institute

America’s kids are in crisis. Summer break is usually associated with active neighborhood games, long bike rides and lots of swimming, yet a recent study suggests these types of experiences are becoming less common with youth.  Many youth spend more time indoors than ever. The results of less active summers are harmful to kids’ health.

According to research published in May, the evidence is becoming clear that our children are gaining more weight during the summer season, as well as losing gains made in fitness during the school year3.  According to two studies, during summertime children gain up to three times as much weight as during the school year4,5.  Despite the incredible focus on childhood obesity, the effects of summer vacation has received very little attention. Most parents thought that summer break only resulted in loss of reading, writing and math skills, now we have something else to focus on.

Three out of 10 kids are obese or overweight.1, Being overweight as a child dramatically increases risk of many diseases later in life, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The issues facing kids today also impact our nation’s economy. Nationally, healthcare costs to treat health issues related to childhood obesity are $14.1 billion annually2.

How do we reverse these negative trends facing young people today?  One way is by recognizing the importance of out-of-school time. The out-of-school environment—after school and summer—plays an essential, yet often overlooked, role in transforming kids’ lives.  What happens during the hours between school and home can have a dramatic impact on a child’s future, especially in the area of health. By providing access to positive, productive programs during summer, we can help change the future for our youth, and our community.

Many organizations seek to curb the causes of childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease. But not one can do it alone. Through the generous support of the Safeway Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs across Washington State are partnering with The Hope Heart Institute, a local leader in cardiovascular prevention research and education, to implement its evidence-based health and fitness curriculum, Kids Take Heart (KTH).  The Hope Heart Institute will equip Boys & Girls Club staff with education and curriculum kits that will reach 500 youth at ten Boys and Girls Club locations throughout the state this summer.

Kids Take Heart is aligned with Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, with the goal to increase students’ knowledge of and participation in healthy behaviors. Participants identify components, functions and diseases of the cardiovascular system, recognize and evaluate risk factors, warning signs and prevention strategies, and create and implement a personal wellness plan. Lessons are divided into four topic areas: anatomy, nutrition, fitness, stress/goal setting. The Clubs will also compete in a 30 day challenge comparing the number of fruit and vegetable servings consumed at each site.

This partnership, funded by the Safeway Foundation, was piloted last year, reaching 427 youth.  Evaluation data indicated that youth who participated in Kids Take Heart increased their knowledge of heart health, and increased their desire to take a more active role in their health. With promising results from last year, we will continue to develop this program which addresses a critical need locally and look at scaling it on a national level.

Childhood obesity is a complex issue that affects some of our most vulnerable and precious community members. In order for our kids to live long and healthy lives, it is imperative we continue to develop and implement programs, policies and partnerships robust enough to ensure each child’s future success.


1) Source: National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) February 2012, and Ogden, C.L.; Carroll, M.D.; Kit, B.K. and Flegal, K.M. “Prevalence of Obesity and Trends in Body Mass Index among US Children and Adolescents, 1999-2010,” Journal of the American Medical Association, (February 1, 2012) 2) Source: Trasande, L. and Chatterjee, S. “The Impact of Obesity on Health Service Utilization and Costs in Childhood,” Obesity, (2009). 3) Source: Active Living Research, “Does Summertime Weight Gain Undermine Youth Obesity Prevention Efforts?” (2015). 4) Source: Baranowski T, O’Connor T, Johnston C, Hughes S, Moreno J, Chen TA, et al. School year versus summer differences in child weight gain: a narrative review. Child Obes. 2014;10(1):18-24.  5) Source: Franckle R, Adler R, Davison K. Accelerated weight gain among children during summer versus school year and related racial/ethnic disparities: a systematic review. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:E101.

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