Back in the day, summertime for kids meant long days playing outside, spending time at the neighborhood pool and going back to school a little taller and leaner with a nice tan. Not so much anymore.
Several recent studies have shown that the risk of children becoming overweight or obese increases over the summer. You don’t need to have a PhD to guess why.
- The Weather: Summer in Texas means it’s hot and kids don’t want to play outside– or do anything outside, for that matter. (Not that I blame them, you’ll find me inside too, when it hits 90s!)
- Screen Time: The lure of the screen is very enticing for kids (and adults alike), a factor that the American Academy of Pediatrics says contributes to child overweight (as well as effects on sleep, attention, learning and depression.) A study done in the Netherlands found that for children age 4-13, watching more than 1.5 hours of TV per day was a significant risk factor for obesity. Having a TV in a child’s bedroom is also an independent risk factor for obesity.
- Sleep. With it staying light longer and less enforcement of bedtimes, kids sleep less. Disrupted sleep is associated with a higher BMI. Media use has also been shown to negatively affect sleep, both due to the content of the media as well as the possible effect of blue light from the screens used before bedtime.
- Diet: The most recent study (in press) on the topic from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed that kids 8-12 years old only ate about half the recommended servings of fruits and veggies during the summer. Lack of fruit and vegetables in the diet is associated with childhood obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. The study also found that kids drink more sugar-sweetened beverages over the summer than during the school year.
What Can Parents Do?
- Help your kids be more active in the summer by signing them up for day camps, swim lessons and sports camps.
- As a family, plan more active ventures for the weekend. When it’s too hot for outside play, create a scavenger hunt at the local mall or set up an active obstacle course in your living room. If your kids like video games, nudge them towards dance and other active games. Set regular active times for the family–take a walk in the cool hours of the day and regularly go to a local swimming pool, lake or water park. (Some gyms have free summer memberships for the teens of members.)
- Make it easy for kids to eat their fruits and veggies by having them prepared, front and center in the refrigerator. Nuts, cheese and yogurt are good protein additions to keep kids satisfied between meals. Also, keep sugary drinks, sweets and salty snacks to a minimum. Out of sight, out of mind!
- Put your family on a digital diet. Not surprisingly, there are apps for that! This can not only improve sleep time and quality, but also give kids more time for face-to-face interaction and active play.
- You can create a family media plan for each child in your family at the American Academy of Pediatrics website: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx#wizard (also available en Espanol.)
- Set up a no screens in the bedroom rule. This rule will be tough to implement with teens, but worth the effort. Though use of social media can have both positive and negative effects depending on how it is used, use of social media has been associated with higher risk for depression symptoms for both adults and teens.