New Study Warns School Holidays are Contributing to Aussie Kids Weight Gain

The fact that Australian children are overweight isn’t news to anyone. While sunny days and more free time to enjoy the outdoors might have us assume that our kids are more active when they’re on a school break, a new study by the University of South Australia warns that summer holidays are a time when children are at risk of further weight gain.

What percentage of Australian children are overweight?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in four Australian kids or teenagers are overweight or obese. Physical inactivity combined with excessive consumption of sugar have been identified as the big culprits for years but despite understanding the cause of the problem, as a society, we aren’t managing to tackle it.

A 35 percent rise in obesity over the past 25 years is nothing short of alarming and when you consider the link between obesity and other chronic diseases that affect older Australians, the forecast for our future population is pretty dire.

new study australian children are overweight

Photo by Jessica Lewis

New research shows summer holidays contribute to weight gain in Aussie kids

The “Life on Holidays” study conducted by the University of South Australia’s Alliance for Exercise, Nutrition, and Activity team is the first of its kind to be conducted outside of the US.

The results of the study showed that primary school age children (Grades 4 and 5) had a greater rate of increased body fat, and their aerobic fitness declined faster during the school holidays compared to school term periods.

Specifically, the children:

  • slept 12 minutes less per day
  • spent 12 minutes less per being physically active
  • spent an additional 70 minutes per day on screen time.

UniSA Professor and lead researcher Tim Olds said, “On school holidays, kids are significantly less active than when they’re at school, and this translates into higher body fat percentages and lower levels of fitness.”

The study ran over 2 years with a subject group of 9-10 year olds.

It’s not surprising to find that kids get fatter at a faster rate on school holidays compared to school term, and lose a lot of fitness. If kids spent the whole year on holidays, their percentage of body fat would increase by about 4% more each year than if they had no holidays, and their fitness would decline by about 10% each year,” says Professor Olds.

“Kids who are not getting enough exercise and movement have a greater risk of developing health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes later in life, so it’s important that we encourage kids to stay active and embrace a balance of downtime and exercise.”

Why are Aussie children gaining more weight in the school holidays?

While everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy some rest over the holidays and partake in some festive indulgence, the issue with our kids is that the break goes for 6 weeks, whereas most adults return to some version of their usual routine in less time, and the younger a person is when the weight starts to creep on, the bigger the problems can be down the track.

Co-researcher Dr Dot Dumuid blames the unstructured nature of holiday periods as part of the problem. Not only has the school term ended, but most sports and recreational activities pause over the extended summer holidays too.

“A defining factor of school holidays is that they’re unstructured – they can get food from the fridge when they want it, and generally have access to computers and devices – and there’s no doubt that screen time plays a key role in increased sedentary time during school holidays,”

With the temptation of electronic devices, the ability to communicate with friends remotely, and typical Australian households having less and less backyard space to play in, it’s easy to see how children are more sedentary than previous generations.

“When you compare this to the structure of a school day, where kids have a prepared lunch, and scheduled PE lessons and playtimes, it’s vastly different,” said Dr Dumuid.

“We all want our kids to be healthy. And while devices and TV may provide a bit of babysitting, is it really worth your child’s health?”

australian children overweight

Photo by Pixabay

References:
Olds, T., Dumuid, D., Eglitis, E. et al. Changes in fitness and fatness in Australian schoolchildren during the summer holidays: fitness lost, fatness regained? A cohort study. BMC Public Health 23, 2094 (2023). https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-023-17009-4

healthy winter foods

5 Steps to Prevent Winter Weight Gain

Any health professional who works in health and fitness knows the occupational hazard that arises at this time of year – cancellations – a lot of them explained by weak excuses such as, “It’s too cold”, “I am not feeling motivated”, “I am just going to wait until the weather gets better”. Unfortunately, when we

Read More »
mothers day classic fun run

2024 Mother’s Day Classic Supporting Ovarian Cancer Too

Mother’s Day is fast approaching and while some families have a tradition of breakfast in bed or a favourite restaurant for dinner, plenty of Aussies have been making the Mother’s Day Classic fun run a part of theirs. Founded in 1998,  this charity event has raised more than $44 million for research into breast cancer

Read More »
retrosweat sydney

Let’s Get Physical With Retrosweat Sydney!

Retrosweat, the fun, authentic, 1980s freestyle aerobics classes first started gaining a following in Sydney more than a decade ago and expanded to two locations, offering classes each week. Retrosweat also offer an online library of “at-home” workouts to meet the growing demand for exercise that is both fun and entertaining, along with being accessible

Read More »
mindful in may

Be Mindful in May and Pause for a Cause

What if you could find more focus, clarity, and effectiveness in daily life by learning a 10-minute mindfulness technique and at the same time have a positive impact on the world? Join the Mindful in May movement next month and you can make it happen. What is Mindful in May? Mindful in May is a

Read More »
bsc dietitian protein supplements weight gain

Do Protein Supplements Cause Weight Gain?

One of the most common misconceptions in nutrition is that protein supplements contribute to weight gain. We asked Mark Robinson, dietitian and expert for BSc supplements to offer up some advice on the topic and so we can answer the question – do protein supplements cause weight gain? The facts around protein and weight gain

Read More »
Scroll to Top