Back to rou­tine and bet­ter health

School struc­ture helps keep kids fit­ter

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - LIFE - JILL BARKER

As much as chil­dren en­joy the care­free months of sum­mer, those lazy, hazy days often mean less sleep, fewer fruits and veg­gies and more time spent in front of a screen.

Sev­eral stud­ies note that chil­dren have a ten­dency to re­turn to the class­room in poorer phys­i­cal con­di­tion and with ac­cel­er­ated weight gain com­pared to the months spent in school.

This trend is es­pe­cially pro­nounced among chil­dren who are al­ready over­weight and/or who come from lower-in­come fam­i­lies.

In­ter­ven­tions in pub­lic schools, through meal pro­grams and in­creased bouts of struc­tured phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, have con­trib­uted to a mod­est drop in obe­sity rates among Cana­dian chil­dren (from 30.7 per cent in 2004 to 27 per cent in 2013).

But much of those ef­forts to com­bat seden­tary be­hav­iour fall by the way­side dur­ing the sum­mer when chil­dren lack the daily struc­ture that oc­curs when school is in ses­sion.

A group of re­searchers from the depart­ment of ex­er­cise sci­ence at the Uni­ver­sity of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Pub­lic Health has la­belled this phe­nom­e­non the Struc­tured Day Hy­poth­e­sis, which sug­gests that our kids are less healthy with­out such struc­ture.

“It is plau­si­ble that, in com­par­i­son to school, a more au­ton­o­mous and un­health­ier home en­vi­ron­ment op­er­ates and thus al­lows chil­dren to self-select and in­dulge in a va­ri­ety of un­healthy be­hav­iours ... which, com­pounded over an un­in­ter­rupted three-month pe­riod, re­sults in ad­verse health out­comes (such as ac­cel­er­ated weight gain) that are not man­i­fested dur­ing week­ends or the nine months of the school year,” the re­searchers said.

They con­tend that “a pre­planned, seg­mented and adult su­per­vised com­pul­sory en­vi­ron­ment” is what kids need if we want to get them off the couch and mov­ing. For many chil­dren, this type of en­vi­ron­ment is a given from Septem­ber to June when they par­tic­i­pate in re­cess, school-based phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion sev­eral times a week, ac­tive travel to and from school and set meal and snack times. The same can’t be said for the other three months of the year.

To ver­ify their hy­poth­e­sis, the re­searchers re­viewed stud­ies that com­pared the week­day and week­end ac­tiv­i­ties of chil­dren.

Bas­ing their the­ory on the sug­ges­tion that sum­mer ac­tiv­ity pat­terns are sim­i­lar to what hap­pens on week­ends dur­ing the school year, the re­searchers noted a gen­eral trend of kids be­ing less ac­tive on Satur­day and Sun­day com­pared to Mon­day through Fri­day.

Over 80 per cent of the stud­ies re­viewed sup­ported their hy­poth­e­sis, in­clud­ing stud­ies that saw time spent in front of the tele­vi­sion in­crease by 60 min­utes per day on week­ends.

Par­tic­u­larly re­veal­ing is data in­di­cat­ing that 52 per cent of the 15,000 Euro­pean chil­dren polled spent more than two hours a day in front of a TV or com­puter screen on week­ends, while only 20 per cent spent that amount of time in front of screens dur­ing the week.

As for bed­times, stud­ies re­veal they rou­tinely were pushed back by 45 to 60 min­utes on week­ends.

Di­etary pat­terns also changed on week­ends, with fruit and veg­etable con­sump­tion de­creas­ing and chil­dren be­ing more likely to con­sume a greater per­cent­age of their calo­ries from fat and food with lit­tle nu­tri­tional con­tent.

And while some kids go from school to camp or other or­ga­nized sum­mer ac­tiv­i­ties, there are plenty of fam­i­lies that can’t af­ford or don’t have ac­cess to pro­grams that add struc­ture to the sum­mer months. In­stead, chil­dren from these fam­i­lies spend their time at home, where they are more likely to be seden­tary.

The study is a wake-up call for par­ents to pro­vide their chil­dren with more op­por­tu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate in struc­tured and un­struc­tured play for the rec­om­mended 60 min­utes a day dur­ing the sum­mer break, and to be more vig­i­lant about stock­ing the fridge with healthy choices.

Kids don’t grow out of a seden­tary life­style. Rather, they grow up to be seden­tary adults, with ex­tra weight, an in­creased risk for chronic dis­ease and a shorter life­span.

The an­swer is the re­al­iza­tion that kids need struc­ture to their sum­mer, along with a re­newed com­mit­ment by com­mu­ni­ties to pro­vide af­ford­able, ac­ces­si­ble recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren of all ages.

DARIO AYALA/MON­TREAL GAZETTE

Do kids live health­ier dur­ing the school year than sum­mer months? A group of re­searchers from the depart­ment of ex­er­cise sci­ence at the Uni­ver­sity of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Pub­lic Health has la­belled this phe­nom­e­non the Struc­tured Day Hy­poth­e­sis, which sug­gests that our kids are less healthy with­out school struc­ture.

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