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YMCA Offers Tips for Helping Kids Avoid Weight Gain, Fuzzy Brains During Summer

By Tina Hernandez for the Channel Islands YMCA |

Summer is a time to kick back and chill. Kids need a break. Parents welcome the few weeks without homework. If you’re not careful, though, summer can have unintended consequences for children. Idle behaviors, hours in front of television and computers, tablets and smartphones, and continual grazing of the kitchen cupboards lead to weight gain and fuzzy brains.

The health of our nation has improved over the past two centuries, but the shift in our behavior to a sedentary lifestyle filled with fast and processed food is threatening that. At this rate, our children will have not only a lower health-related quality of life, but also a lower life expectancy than their parents. The health and future of America depends on how we address these issues.

As a society we’ve developed standards known as HEPA, Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards. Implement a few simple take-aways from these standards and we’ll see this shift begin to correct itself. Parents need to be strong in order to get kids to adopt these changes — suggesting a game of capture the flag or Frisbee instead of hours of video games may meet with blank stares or even upheaval. But it must be done.

This summer, focus on:

» 60 minutes a day of physical activity. Increase the heart rate and make sure kids are breathing hard. Break it up into smaller increments if you need to. Finding an hour shouldn’t be too difficult — kids are spending an average of seven hours in front of a screen these days!

» Completely eliminate screen time for children younger than age 2. For children older than 2, limit time to 30 minutes or less each day. They may say there’s “nothing to do” at first, but give them some time and their imagination will re-engage and even you will be amazed at the ideas they come up with.

» Be sure you have fruits and vegetables ready to grab when hunger strikes. Wash, cut and leave a bowl on the table. Chances are the bowl will be empty by the end of the day.

» Limit fried foods, chips and even foods that are baked, but were fried first, like chicken nuggets and tater tots.

» Check the label for whole grains — whole wheat, whole oats, whole brown rice.

» Make sure the foods you serve do not include sugar as one of the first few ingredients and be sure you know all the different names for sugar these days including high fructose corn syrup, glucose, sucrose, invert sugar and the list goes on!

» Keep a cup of water accessible to kids all day. Avoid sugary drinks and serve plenty of water and low or non-fat milk.

» Check labels and do your best to know what each ingredient is. If you can’t pronounce it, you may want to ask yourself, "Is this really food?”

» Lastly, get help. The YMCA is a great place for kids and families to spend time during the summer, and all year long. The YMCA follows the HEPA standards and the health and well-being of kids is a primary area of focus. This summer, mor than 1,350 children are spending time at a Y Camp in Santa Ynez, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Ventura and Camarillo. Stop by the Y and join the Y family as together, we pursue healthy eating and physical activity and subsequently turn the tide of obesity and chronic diseases in our children.

The Y is the nation’s leading nonprofit committed to strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. The Channel Islands YMCA serves over 46,000 individuals and provides more than $1.3 million in financial assistance to families in need for child care, YMCA memberships, away and day camps, youth sports, and teen after-school programs.

Mission: The Channel Islands YMCA is a charitable organization providing programs based upon Christian principles to men, women and children of all ages, races, religious beliefs and economic status to develop and enrich the spirit, mind and body.

— Tina Hernandez is the marketing and communications director for the Channel Islands YMCA.

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