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Summer’s Challenge: Weight Gain in Kids and Ways to Prevent It

School’s out!  Kids are rushing out the school doors and into the summer sunshine.  They are leaving behind homework and a structured schedule for classes, meals, free time and sleep.  Once home, their idea of summertime fun is lazy days, sleeping late, favorite snack foods and lots of screen time. Unfortunately this can lead to weight gain in kids.

Study finds rise of obesity in children in summer monthsWeight Gain in Kids and Ways to Prevent It

A recent national study conducted of children from kindergarten through second grade found that the risk of obesity was higher when children were out of school than when they were in school.

A nationally representative sample of 18,170 U.S. children was followed from the fall of kindergarten in 2010 through the spring of second grade in 2013. Children’s weight and heights were measured in schools each fall and spring.  From the fall of kindergarten to the spring of second grade, the prevalence of obesity increased from 8.9% to 11.5%, and the prevalence of overweight increased from 23.3% to 28.7%. The study, published in the journal Obesity, found that all of the increase in prevalence of obesity occurred during the two summer vacations; no increase occurred during any of the three school years.

A study published in 2007 in the American Journal of Public Health reported that the body mass indexes (BMI) of more than 5,000 kindergartners and first graders increased by almost twice as much during summer break as compared with the school year. Weight gain and increased BMI can lead to health problems such as diabetes and heart disease for children in youth as well as into adulthood.

So what are the factors that lead to the rise in weight gain?  Researchers have speculated as to the potential causes by noting the differences in environments.  Since summertime mostly lacks structure and environments are less closely monitored, kids sleep in more, and spend a lot of time watching TV and video games while snacking on high-calorie, low-quality foods.

The school environment provides a structure for learning, healthy meals at consistent times, and opportunities for exercise and physical education.  The learning environment requires a consistent sleep schedule as the school day starts at the same time each day.  Most importantly, by being in class during the day and doing homework afterward, students have less time for screens.

Help kids enjoy the summer, but follow these tips to reduce the chance of weight gain and prevent development of other unhealthy habits:

Tips to keep kids healthy this summer

  • Create some structure. Planning some activities ahead of time can prevent kids from being tempted to sit around the house all day.
  • Limit screen time. Limit your children’s television viewing to only about two hours a day.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Kids need their sleep to avoid weight gain and to recharge their bodies.
  • Keep healthy snacks visible. Keep healthy snacks out and available and make sure fruits and vegetables have visual appeal.  Get colorful by offering a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables.  Experiment with shapes, sizes, textures, and temperatures to make fruits and veggies more fun. It really does work!
  • Go outside and move! Children should be active for an hour every day and getting outside to play is one way to be sure that happens. They can certainly exercise indoors, but sending them outdoors — especially with something like a ball or a bike — encourages active play, which is really the best exercise for children.   It also encourages creativity, teaches social skills, and an appreciation of nature.  Experiment with some tips for active play:
  • Get involved as a family. Be an example to your children; they get their cues from you.  Set new routines.  Make fruit kabobs as a new snack to try.  Rather than watching TV after dinner, go outside and take a walk or play ball.  The fresh air and a walk in nature will benefit everyone.