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Schools Help Hold the Line Against Childhood Obesity

index (BMI), which is a measure of relative obesity that is derived from height and weight. The students’ BMI scores were measured at the beginning and end of their kindergarten and first-grade school years. By comparing BMI scores at the end of kindergarten and the beginning of first grade, the researchers were able to assess BMI changes during summer vacation.

The study found that increases in BMI scores grew more than three times faster during the summer as they did during the kindergarten school year, and more than twice as fast as during the first-grade school year.

And it was not just overweight children who did better when they were in school. The results showed that underweight children tended to gain BMI more quickly than their peers did during the school year and more slowly during summer vacation. Meanwhile, obese children benefited the most from attending school as their rate of BMI gain was reduced the most.

In addition, schools seem to help hold the line in racial and ethnic gaps in obesity. Other studies have shown that Black and Hispanic children are most at risk for obesity, and this study confirms that finding. On the first day of kindergarten, Black and Hispanic children already showed slightly higher BMI scores than white children.

But the study showed that the racial and ethnic gaps in BMI scores only grew during summer vacation and not during the school year.

“Schools are a great treatment. They have benefits for all children, and especially for children who need it the most,” Downey said.

Schools probably help limit the spread of obesity because of their structured environment, von Hippel and Downey said. Time spent in class means children’s access to food is restricted. The results are consistent with earlier studies suggesting that adults, too, eat more healthily in more structured environments. Adults consume less and gain weight more slowly during the workweek than the
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