Andrea Branton, a pediatric dietitian at Mission Children’s Hospital, offers expert advice on helping your children avoid weight gain this summer, as seen in WNC Parent.
Naturally you would think that it would be easy for your child to stay healthy and not gain weight over summer break.
Over the summer there are more opportunities to get outdoors, have access to fresher and more cost effective fruits and vegetables, and there isn’t as much hustle to get to school or other activities. However, there is more research coming out that children are gaining at a faster rate over the summer than during the school year.
One study looked at 18,000 kids from kindergarten to second grade and tracked their body mass index (BMI). It found that obesity increased from 8.9 percent to 11.5 percent over that time period with all the accelerated gain being over the two summer months.
Some reasons could be more frequent snacking — increased calories, more screen time, less activity and poor sleep schedules. Kids get bored or stay up later than usual and want something to snack on. Calories from several snacks per day can add up quickly. Just 1 ounce of chips (one serving) is 140 calories, and not that many of us eat only 1 ounce. If you then drink something along with your snack, like juice or soda, that adds another 100-150 calories. So eating 200-300 calories twice or more per day over two months can really increase weight gain.
Different levels of activity also change in the summer. A lot of kids are spending more time in front of the screen — computers, tablets, phones, video games or TV. Kids complain about how hot it is during the day, which can prevent a child from wanting to go outside. Summer camps are great, but are usually only for one or two weeks at a time. Sitting for 8-10 hours, then going out for 30 minutes to an hour doesn’t undo those many hours not being active.
What can we do as parents?
Better snacks. Try to have healthy snack options and limit the number per day. Choose low-calorie snacks that are filling, like fruit, low-fat yogurt, half sandwiches and vegetables with light dressing or other healthy dip like salsa or hummus. Limit the higher-calorie junk foods and encourage drinking water throughout the day.
Screen breaks. Encourage your child to take frequent breaks from the screen — going for a quick walk, bike ride or play a sport for 20-30 minutes every few hours. Breaking up the activity is much easier than trying to do several hours at once. The recommended screen time limit is two hours per day. If it’s hot, find a cool water activity to do like water balloons, sprinklers, small pools or the local swimming pool.
Keep on schedule. Having the same sleep and meal routine is best. Waking and going to bed around the same time every night is shown to prevent increased appetite and keep the BMI low. Having family meals also promotes healthy eating habits.
Andrea Branton, RD, LDN, is a pediatric dietitian at Mission Children’s Hospital. To learn more about the services at Mission Children’s Hospital, visit missionchildrens.org.