Schools do more to help prevent obesity among children than they do to cause it, new research suggests. A nationwide study found that one measure of obesity// rose more than twice as fast when kindergarten and first-grade students were on summer vacation than when they were in school.
And obese children were helped most by being in school: they gained weight no faster than other children did during the school year. It was only during the summer that overweight children gained weight more quickly than average.
“We really can’t blame schools for the rise in childhood obesity,” said Paul von Hippel, co-author of the study and research statistician in sociology at Ohio State University.
“The problem is primarily outside of schools.”
The study comes at a time when states are putting increasing pressure on schools to help battle the epidemic of childhood obesity.
As of last August, the University of Baltimore Obesity Initiative reported 32 states had enacted or proposed legislation regulating vending machines at schools, such as prohibiting certain types of high-fat and high-sugar foods from being sold. At the same time, 37 states have enacted or proposed laws controlling the types of foods and beverages offered during school hours.
While these laws may be helpful and well-intentioned, their impact may be limited, said Douglas Downey, another co-author of the study and professor of sociology at Ohio State.
“When it comes to childhood obesity, schools appear to be more a part of the solution than the problem,” Downey said. “The problem of childhood obesity would actually be much worse if children were not in school.”
The study appears in the April 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. It used data from a survey of 5,380 students from around the country administered by the U.S. Department of Education.
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