Once the final bell rings and students leave their chairs for the last time for summer break, many children’s health declines, putting them at risk for immediate health consequences as well as increasing their chances of future conditions. Therefore it is important for children to remain active over the summer and look for healthy activities to keep themselves busy.
According to a recent Obesity Society study, obesity in children rises around five percent over the summer. The study also found that while the obesity rate rises significantly over the summer, it does not increase during the school year.
Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that children engage in more behaviors related to obesity over the summer. This includes watching television, eating more sugar and less vegetables and barely exercising.
Obesity poses a significant threat to American children. According to a study conducted by Paul Franks and Robert Hanson, one third of children in the U.S. are obese, which leads to many physical issues in the child’s immediate and future life.This study also found that people who were obese as children are more likely to die prematurely due to high glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure.
One of the reasons that children may gain weight over the summer is a poor diet.Columbia University’s study found that children consume three more ounces of sugary drinks over the summer. This study also found that without set eating times, children tend to overeat and snack throughout the day. Sometimes children resort to eating unhealthy foods.
Underprivileged children can eat some or all of their meals at United States public schools for free. However, once the school year ends, this access to meals also comes to a stop. Parents’ income rate often impacts the health quality of food that their child receives, and without schools providing children with healthy meals, parents often resort to unhealthy ones. A 2013 Harvard study found that eating healthy costs $1.50 dollars per person more daily than eating unhealthily. A meal for kids at McDonalds costs around three dollars, which is much cheaper than buying organic fruits and vegetables at Whole Foods, and easier to put together than cooking a healthy meal.
Over the summer, children tend to not have the same structured routines as they do during the school year. For example, a child may go to sleep later than usual and eat meals at different times, or not at all.
Children tend to go to sleep later over the summer, which may lead to less sleep. A child not getting enough sleep contributes negatively to their weight, a study found. The study concluded that the later a child goes to sleep, the more likely they are to suffer from obesity in the future.
Young students do not have the constant reminder to exercise that schools often provide through physical education classes and activities during recess. Sometimes they fall into a routine revolving around comfort, forgetting about the need for physical activity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that children need at least one hour of exercise per day. Alison McManus, a professor of pediatric exercise physiology at the University of British Columbia conducted a study examining the difference in health between young girls who sat for three hours straight and those who exercised intermittently. She found that the girls who stayed sitting down experienced an extreme decrease in vascular function. According to McManus, this dangerous decrease in arterial function increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. McManus suggests that children stand up and move around at least every hour.
Many children spend more time looking at a screen over the summer than they do during the school year. According to Columbia University’s study, kids watch an average of 20 minutes of television more per day over the summer that during the academic year.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children over 2 years old do not spend more than 2 hours a day looking at screens. Besides the threats of cyber bullying and addiction, physiotherapist Sammy Margo told BBC that because of technology, children are “weaker, more hunched over and have poorer muscle tone than ever before.” Margo also stated that staring at a screen for too long could cause headaches and neck pain.
Spending too much time looking at screens can also hurt children’s eyes. The American Optometric Association found that excessive screen time can cause digital eye strain, which results in burning or itchy eyes. It recommends that people rest their eyes by partaking in other activities, such as reading, to balance out the eyes’ concentration.
Healthier meals: While preparing healthy meals often takes more effort, these meals can greatly benefit children. Dr. Dyan Hes of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York encourages parents to buy fewer foods that are associated with obesity development such as sodas and other sweetened beverages and snacks with high caloric density.
Although some communities do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their local supermarkets, there are some healthy alternatives. Parents can go to farmers’ markets or purchase frozen and canned vegetables.
The United States Government also offers several nutritious food programs to low-income citizens, known as federal food assistance programs. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) gives families ways to purchase food at the supermarket while also providing nutrition education. This helps families end the cycle of unhealthy eating. Similarly, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) gives people money for nutritious food, but is accessible to anyone, not just women, infants and children.
Sports teams: Joining a sports team can replace the physical activities that public schools provide during the academic year during the summertime. Besides keeping children active, sports teams often foster the development of many important life skills including discipline, commitment and physical confidence, according to Michigan State University professor researcher Andy Driska. Sports teams also encourage social interaction. Furthermore, sports also give youth a higher social support levels and a community critical to self esteem development according to a report from True Sport.
Children can also participate in less structured exercise routines. For example, a child may enjoy walking around the neighborhood more than playing a sport. Most cities in the United States have public pools where children can swim. Some kids may also prefer playing at a park with friends.
However, some children do not have access or have very limited access to the outdoors. There are activities that children can do indoors to exercise. Children can jump rope without needing too much space. They can also have dance parties, do jumping jacks, make an obstacle course out of office furniture or play hopscotch. Even when children are doing traditionally “sitting down” activities, such as using a computer or reading, they can use a sit to stand desk so they are not sitting down for too long and stretch their legs. Even getting up for a few minutes per hour can make a difference. According to a study conducted by the American Society of Nephrology, if someone gets up two minutes every hour it can benefit their health significantly.
Kids don’t have to go outside to be active.
Logic Games: Children can use their extra time over the summer to advance themselves in academics while simultaneously having fun. Board games with a mathematical element, such as Monopoly, can greatly improve children’s understanding of numbers, according to a psychology study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University. Logic games such as Sudoku and Battleship can also improve children’s deductive reasoning. Other entertaining and academic games include jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, and word searches.
Reading: An alternative to spending too much time using technology, children can read books for entertainment and to advance themselves academically. The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research found that children who read every day are a year ahead of children who don’t. Another one of the many benefits of reading is that children can improve their vocabulary extensively. Gemm Learning, an education provider, conducted a study that found that children who have words to identify exactly what they are trying to say are more likely to have a stronger sense of confidence, self-image and a higher academic standing.
Arts and Crafts: Not only is producing arts and crafts fun, but it also improves children’s self-esteem and creativity. Dr. Kamii and Dr. DeVries (1993) found that art is a sensory experience for a child that helps them to become more familiar with the objects around them. According to a study conducted by Dr. Sautter, art improves self-esteem by giving children a way to express their thoughts and feelings. The study also found that it helps children accept criticism and praise. If a parent praises their child’s work and puts it up as an office decoration, the child will feel good. On the other hand, if someone criticizes their work they will experience receiving negative feedback and eventually learn how to handle it. Some ideas for crafts include refurbishing a shoebox, touching up an old chair with some paint or making paper origami.
For more ideas on healthy summertime activities for kids, click here.