The summertime achievement gap has long been a topic of conversation among educators, as demonstrated by Paul Teske’s excellent recent blog entry. We may now we have something else to blame on summer: childhood obesity. In a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers analyzed the body mass indices of 5,380 American kindergarten and first-graders.
They found that, on average, body mass index grew more than twice as fast during summer vacation than during the school year. Black and Hispanic children started out with higher body mass indices than whites. This “fat gap” widened during summer vacation but not during the school year. The effect was also particularly pronounced for kids of all races who were overweight when they began kindergarten.
Summers are already a lost opportunity when it comes to the achievement gap. Now it appears they may also be contributing to a different and potentially more deadly gap that can directly affect a child’s life expectancy. (For a whole variety of reasons that probably include weight differentials, black children born in 2005, for instance, have a life expectancy of 5 years less than whites born in the same year.)
If we are serious about closing both life and learning gaps, we need to provide all low-income and/or minority kids with high quality summer educational programs that emphasize both academics and healthy practices such as physical activity and good nutrition. This emphasis on physical activity might go a long way toward satisfying those who (very reasonably) say that summer is a time for kids to relax and play.
By targeting only those kids who most need these programs, we would also save money in this era of fiscal belt-tightening.
Popularity: 4% [?]