Parents Can Prevent Kids' Summer Weight Gain

Let Children Choose From Healthy Food Options
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How to
Tim Marconi (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Kids can help with planning summer menus.

Summer marks a hiatus from the daily responsibilities and scheduled demands children face during the rest of the year. While some adults might remember their summer vacations filled with water-balloon fights, bike rides, campfires and playground games, children today are more likely to spend more time indoors watching TV, playing video games and snacking.

The school year provides a structure for eating, sleeping and physical activities involving youth sports or after-school programs. But in the summertime, if they engage in less physical activity, children may gain up to three times as much weight as they do over an entire school year.

Several studies have documented a tendency for accelerated weight gain among children during summer vacation. But programs like summer camps, increased access to recreational facilities and summer food programs may be potential opportunities for communities to support active living and healthy eating.

In addition to community support, parents have many other ways to promote healthy behavior. Here are some tips:

  • Enforce regular bedtimes. Kids need their sleep to avoid excess weight gain and to allow for healthy growth.

  • Be creative with activities. Hit the beach, explore a new hiking trail, go for a bike ride, play hide-and-go-seek outside, make post-dinner walks a "family thing," or have kids get involved in making dinner or snacks.

  • Limit TV time to one hour toward the end of the day as a way to relax after an active, productive day.

  • Take kids to the grocery store or farmers' market and let them pick ingredients for healthy snacks they can make for themselves. Think things like fruit and yogurt parfaits, or veggies and hummus.

  • Give children a patch of garden all their own. Kids love to eat what they grow.

  • Give kids choices at dinner. Chop up a big selection of ingredients — mushrooms, onions, peppers, eggplant, pineapple, shrimp, and chicken — and let them choose what they want on a grilled kabob. Let them choose toppings for tacos and pasta.

Actions by parents can be especially helpful for promoting a healthy weight in children. As University of Minnesota researcher Dianne Neumark-Sztainer pointed out in a July 13 interview on Wisconsin Public Radio's Central Time, simply telling a child to be more weight-conscious could shame them and cause self-esteem problems. Instead, parents can model better behavior around food and physical activity, which will do more to help children engage in healthy eating and physical activity.

Parents can get more ideas on staying active as a family this summer from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food, Summer Moves campaign. To learn more about healthy eating and physical activity, people can contact their local UW-Extension offices.

Amber Canto is state coordinator of the Wisconsin Nutrition Education Program, which is changing its name to FoodWIse.

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