SHAPE America Asks Moms & Dads: “Will Your Children Be Ready”
Parents may be surprised to know that the majority of children in the United States are LESS active during the summer than during the school year and therefore are at risk for unhealthy weight gains,” warns SHAPE America Hall of Famer Chuck Corbin, professor emeritus at Arizona State University. Citing statistics from Active Living Research (ALR), Dr. Corbin recommends parents monitor their children’s physical activity levels and eating habits during the summer so that when they return to school they will be healthy, fit and ready to learn.
The ALR report suggests that today’s youth have “fewer of the freedoms many adults may remember from their childhood summers.” For example, many adults remember “riding bikes to the corner store, walking to the local swimming hole, playing active games with neighborhood friends, but this has become less common among today’s youth.” In 1969 41 percent of American youth walked or rode a bicycle to school, but now only about 13 percent do so. Without structured activities many children’s activity levels may not reach the recommended standards.
National guidelines recommend 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day for children and teens. Yet the majority of youth do not meet this standard. For example, only 41 percent of children 6 to 11 meet the standard and only 27 percent of high school students are active 60 minutes a day on a regular basis.
According to research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, school based physical activity programs, such as those promoted by SHAPE America, provide much of the activity necessary to meet national activity guidelines. During the school year physical education can account for more than a third of the activity necessary to meet national guidelines. Physical education combined with recess, classroom activity breaks, and walking to and from school add up to 58 minutes of activity each day. These types of activities are not available during the summer.
Other reasons for the decrease in physical activity and the increase in weight gain over the summer, include greater screen time (e.g., TV, video games, social media) and the availability of food not typically available during the school year. According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, children “now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen (e.g., TV, videogames, computer).” This is almost four times the amount of screen time as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (two hours or less per day). Because youth are not in school five plus hours a day in the summer, they have more free time to spend sitting in front of a screen.
During the summer kids also have access to snacks at home that are not available during the typical school day. The ALR report also notes that summer camps, especially day camps, often promote poor dietary habits. For example, 50 percent of children bring sugar-sweetened beverages and chips to summer day camps. Only 33 percent bring fruit.
SHAPE America President Fran Cleland of West Chester University suggests families work together to create daily/weekly activity and meal plans. “Children and adolescents need structure, but also choice,” says Dr. Cleland. “Activities need to be age-appropriate and relevant to their interests. Regarding nutrition and eating habits, I would suggest having children/adolescents learn to make their own healthy meals starting with grocery shopping together. That helps to keep ‘healthy’ in the forefront as well as choice and individual needs.”
To maintain and/or improve your children’s fitness and nutrition this summer, Dr. Corbin has these suggestions:
- Plan home recess and physical activity periods to simulate school activity programs.
- Encourage outdoor activity.
- Find ways to be active on hot days (e.g., swimming, morning or evening activities).
- Include some vigorous activity each day.
- Be active with your kids (e.g., family walk, biking, roller skate, ice skate).
- Arrange active play dates. ″Take active vacations.
- Walk or ride a bike as opposed to driving.
- Find an active camp, sports team, or kid’s activity program.
- Have kids walk in grocery stores rather than ride in a cart.
- Avoiding Unnecessary Calorie Intake
- Limit the availability of “empty calorie” foods that are easily accessible (e.g., candy, sweetened drinks, chips) both at home and at camps.
- Have a quota if high calorie snacks are available.
- Make healthy foods available and promote consumption.
- Limiting Screen Time
- Limit screen time and encourage active computer games.
For additional ways to stay active as a family, check out SHAPE America’s “101 Tips for Family Fitness Fun Activities.”