Prevention of Excess Summer Weight Gain in School Age Children

Significant efforts have been made to address children’s access to healthy nutrition and
 physical activity within the school environment. Despite these efforts, income-related disparities in obesity prevalence continue to widen. Findings from several studies suggest that accelerated summer weight gain may be a significant and unrecognized influence, particularly among youth from low-income households. We have conducted work for three consecutive summers (2016-2018) to address this concern.

Collectively, 176 children participated in 3 key studies, that were received with appreciation from the children who attended and their families. Results indicated that children who participate in a structured program that includes access to a healthy lunch through the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and increased opportunity for physical activity demonstrate decreases in weight status, while those who do not engage in structured programming, demonstrate increases in weight status. 

1. A quasi-experimental study: This study included 81 participants in a low-income community in Newport, conducted in summer 2016. We tested whether a summer camp program, developed and delivered by our staff, was effective in reducing the rate of summer weight gain. 

2. A randomized control trial: This study was conducted in two different locations of the Boys and Girls Club in Newport and Pawtucket in summers 2017 and 2018. We tested whether participants who attended full day camp demonstrated greater participation in physical activity, increased diet quality, and decreased weight gain compared to children who did not participate in a structured program.

 

Next steps involve using findings from intervention studies and qualitative data to expand access to structured diet and physical activity programming for children in Rhode Island during the summer, in addition to expanding the scope of work to the school year. In efforts to meet these goals, we are currently collaborating with the Rhode Island Food Bank to develop a program for providing children from low–income communities with healthy and easily prepared foods over the weekends, when children do not have access to meals provided through the school breakfast and lunch programs.