Inactivity can lead to summer weight gain in children

Lauren Blair
A research brief published this month concludes that children are gaining weight disproportionately during the summer months and backsliding on fitness improvements made during the school year. Northwest Colorado offers many opportunities for kids to keep active and fit during the summer

— Kids are finally enjoying their first taste of summer vacation, a time that conjures images of sunshine, outdoor fun and physical activity.

However, recent research suggests many children are actually becoming less active and unhealthier during the summer months compared to the school year.

The research brief, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published by Active Living Research, concludes children gain up to three times as much weight during summer vacation as during the entire school year.

Studies reviewed in the brief also revealed children lost the fitness gains they had gained throughout the course of the school year.

“The problem is clear — children weigh more and are less fit at the end of summer than they were before summer started,” according to the brief.

While research on the subject is still in its infancy, the brief’s author, Michael Beets, an associate professor in the department of exercise science at Arnold School of Public Health University of South Carolina, speculates kids may not have the same freedoms they once enjoyed.

“Many parents are becoming increasingly concerned about neighborhood safety, and limiting children’s outdoor play,” Beets wrote.

There are plenty of options and simple tips for families to help their kids stay active this summer, though, said Charity Neal, director of public health for Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

“Activity doesn’t have to be extensive or over-organized. A trip to the park, kicking or throwing a ball in the backyard, it all counts,” Neal said. “We’re not saying every kid has to play organized sports. It’s just about finding a way that fits into their lives.”

Another option Neal suggested was the Boys & Girls Club summer camp, held from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday in both Steamboat Springs and Craig. She said her own three boys pick out their club days based on the activities offered.

“We have our gym open over six hours a day. We go bike-riding, we go hiking, we play tennis, we get outside as much as we possibly can,” said Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Colorado Executive Director Dana Duran. “Keeping kids active and increasing their moderate to vigorous activity is a priority for both clubs over the summer.”

Diet is also important, said Neal and Duran, who suggested having endless access to snacks and too much idle time in summer months can lead to unhealthy grazing.

“We also keep their minds engaged so there’s not as much downtime to think about snacking or participate in unhealthy behaviors,” Duran said. “We’re keeping their minds engaged, as well as their bodies, and helping them (make) good choices all summer long.”

Finally, Neal offered LiveWell Colorado’s 5-2-1-0 guideline for families to live by daily:

• 5 or more fruits and vegetables

• 2 hours or less recreational screen time

• 1 hour or more of physical activity

• 0 sugary drinks, more water and low-fat milk

Replacing the bag of chips with a bag of carrots can also be a good starting place, Neal said, as well as stocking the fridge with flavored water to replace sugary drinks. Kids can even choose their own flavors by simply adding strawberries, citrus, cucumber or other fruits to a pitcher of water.

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