According to the Center for Disease Control, children can gain weight two to three times faster than they do during the school year. Studies also show that the battle against childhood obesity is at its height during the summer months when
“Childhood obesity and related diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular health are serious health concerns,” said Dennis Woo, M.D., former chair of pediatrics at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica. “Children who are obese are likely to be obese as adults, so it is important to address all issues that may increase their risk.”
Structure helps kids stay on track during the school year with regularly scheduled times to eat and play.
However during the less structured days of summer, there are several factors that can hinder children’s health.
“Many working parents, concerned about their children’s safety during the summer, choose to keep them inside while they are away,” Woo said. “Without many options to choose from, children spend a lot of time in front of computer and television screens, which is often paired with too much snacking.”
Parents who are armed with information about the probability of summer weight gain can take proactive steps to help their children stay fit.
UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica offers some ideas parents can use to help their kids stay active and avoid summer weight gain.
• Be a good role model.
Kids follow the lead of their parents and are more likely to make healthy choices if they see their parents making them. Involve the entire family in trying new fruits and vegetables and by exercising every day for 30 to 60 minutes. Activities can include playing in the park, walking to new areas of the neighborhood or swimming at a local recreation center. If it’s too hot outside to exercise, get moving in air-conditioned areas by doing things like dancing to the radio or even playing hide-and-seek.
• Limit screen time to less than two hours per day.
Cutting down time spent in front of computer and television screens help kids develop other active ways to spend their time and also minimizes mindless eating that often takes place when zoning out in front of the television.
• Fill your refrigerator with healthy foods.
If it’s it in the house, the kids will eat it. That’s as true for fruits and vegetables as it is for junk food. When shopping, limit junk food and bring home fruits and vegetables, low-fat dips, fruit bars and low-fat yogurt. Put them in easy to access spots for kids to choose when they want a snack. At mealtimes, follow USDA guidelines and make sure vegetables fill half of everyone’s plate.
• Join summer recreational programs.
Adding some structure to children’s days gives them a purpose and helps them stay on track. Sign them up for a sport which not only will get them moving, but also offers other benefits such as confidence building, teaching teamwork and improving social skills. Many parks and recreation departments offer low-cost sports programs and some also offer scholarships. For teens, encourage them to volunteer or work as camp counselors.