Changes in fitness and fatness in Australian schoolchildren during the summer holidays: fitness lost, fatness regained? A cohort study

Tim Olds, Dorothea Dumuid, Emily Eglitis, Rebecca Golley, François Fraysse, Aaron Miatke, Grant R. Tomkinson, Amanda Watson, Mason Munzberg, Carol Maher

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Abstract

Background: Emerging evidence suggests that children’s fatness increases and fitness declines at a greater rate during the summer holiday period, compared with the school year. The aim of this study was to compare rates of change in fitness and fatness over the in-term and summer holiday periods among Australian schoolchildren. A secondary aim was to explore whether rates of change differed according to the child’s sex, socio-economic status (SES), pubertal status and weight status. 

Methods: Children (n = 381) initially in Grade 4 (age 9) were recruited for this 2-year longitudinal study. Fatness (% body fat, BMI z-score, waist-to-height ratio) and fitness (20-m shuttle run and standing broad jump) were measured at the start and end of two consecutive years. Rates of change were calculated for the two in-school periods (Grades 4 and 5) and for the summer holiday period. Rates of change in fatness and fitness between in-school and holiday periods were compared, and differences in rates of change according to sex, socio-economic status, and weight status were explored. 

Results: During the holidays, percentage body fat increased at a greater rate (annualised rate of change [RoC]: +3.9 vs. Grade 4 and + 4.7 vs. Grade 5), and aerobic fitness declined at a greater rate (RoC − 4.7 vs. Grade 4 and − 4.4 vs. Grade 5), than during the in-school periods. There were no differences in rates of change for BMI z-score, waist-to-height ratio or standing broad jump. Body fatness increased faster in the holidays (relative to the in-school period) in children who are overweight and from low-SES families. Aerobic fitness declined more rapidly in the holidays in children who are overweight. 

Conclusion: This study highlights that during the summer holiday period, children experience greater increases in fatness and declines in fitness, with children who live with low-SES families and are overweight being more affected. The findings suggest the need for targeted interventions during this period to address these negative health trends. 

Trial registration: Australia New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, identifier ACTRN12618002008202. Retrospectively registered on 14 December 2018.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2094
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Public Health
Volume23
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2023

Keywords

  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Fatness
  • Fitness
  • Holiday
  • Obesity
  • Shuttle run
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Summer
  • Use of time

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