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Preventing kids’ summer weight gain

Summer marks a hiatus from the daily responsibilities and scheduled demands children face during the rest of the year. While adults might remember their summer vacations filled with water-balloon fights, bike rides to the corner store, campfires and playground games, children today are 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 school sports or after school programs. But in the summertime, due to less physical activity, children may gain up to three times as much weight as they do during the entire school year.

“Several studies have documented a tendency for accelerated weight gain among children during summer school vacation,” says Amber Canto, state coordinator of the Wisconsin Nutrition Education Program. Programs such as summer camps, increased access to recreational facilities, and summer food programs may be potential opportunities for communities to support active living and healthy eating over the summer.

“In addition to community support, there are many other things parents can do to promote healthy behavior.” She offers some tips:

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

• Take kids to the grocery store or farmer’s 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.

• Be creative with your 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 towards the end of the day as a way to relax after an active, productive day.

• Give your 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 too.

To learn more about healthy eating and physical activity contact your local county UW-Extension office.