- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
School diet and exercise policies may not be ideal, but research shows that they provide a healthier environment than many children have during summer vacation.
The American Journal of Public Health reported in 2007 that weight gain spiked during the summer between kindergarten and first grade. The difference was especially large for black children, Hispanic children and children who were already overweight at the beginning of kindergarten.
"Instead of scheduled meals and snacks, children at home during summer break may have continuous access to unhealthy snacks,” said Carly Marino, the coordinator of the UC Cooperative Extension Children's Power Play! Campaign in Los Angeles County. “In place of recess, children may spend more time watching television and playing video games. It all adds up to more calories consumed and fewer burned."
Marino is working with the Boys & Girls Club of East Los Angeles to prevent local low-income children’s summer slump. They hosted a week-long program that included lessons on how much sugar is in soft drinks and how many fruits and vegetables to eat. The children participated in a fitness obstacle course and water games in the Boys & Girls Club swimming pool.
As a general rule, elementary school children should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, which can be done throughout the day for at least 10 minutes at a time. They should eat two-and-a-half to five cups of fruits and vegetables every day.
"Parents can help their kids stay on track this summer by including more fruits and vegetables in meals and snacks, limiting screen time and being positive role models," Marino said. "One of the best ways for parents
to help kids get active and maintain healthy eating habits is by enrolling them into a summer activity program, which provides scheduled play and snacks, as well as a safe place for children to learn and grow while parents
The program in Los Angeles was part of the California state Champions for Change campaign. Champions for Change suggests families adopt three simple rules:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Be more active.
- Speak up for healthy changes.