HEALTH AND FITNESS: summer gains and losses | resource columns

HEALTH AND FITNESS: summer gains and losses |  resource columns

Source Now that school is out for the summer, this is a critical time of year to focus on good nutrition, physical activity, and continued reading and learning to help prevent a summertime slump in health and academics. Schools can only do so much, so adults should model good diet, activity and reading behaviors themselves. A good place to start is by turning off the TV and reading a book or going outside to play. It’s something all of us – adults and children – will benefit from.

This is important because the combination of poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and obesity has physical, psychological, and social consequences for children that frequently persist into adulthood. Overweight and obese children, especially those who are inactive, are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even stroke – conditions usually associated with adulthood. Even if an overweight child does not have these conditions now, he or she is likely on that path. In fact, many experts predict that children born today will be the first generation in history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents due to obesity-related diseases that begin in childhood. Learning losses are not the only concern with an extended break from school. Many children gain more weight over the summer than during the rest of the year. Furthermore, fitness gains made during the school year are frequently lost over the summer. While poor nutrition and a lack of activity in schools is a real concern, many children get more exercise and eat better at school than they do at home. Being at home over the summer can lead to poor eating habits – too much unhealthy food or not enough food in general – and lack of chances to be active.

Children who are overweight are also more likely to suffer other consequences including lower self-esteem, social functioning, and academic performance. Overweight children are also less likely to play sports or participate in other forms of physical activity, which creates a cycle leading to poorer health and, potentially, poorer academic success. Not all kids are affected equally. Much of the disparity in summer learning losses falls along socioeconomic lines. Some children have more opportunities than others to continue learning over the summer through formal educational programs and camps and informal encouragement to read. To address this issue, many institutions implement summer “school” through online learning programs and by encouraging reading at home. Some target the students who need them the most while other programs are instituted for all children.

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