Help Kids Keep the Weight Off This Summer

Summer break can expand kids’ waistlines, but it doesn’t have to.

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Challenge kids to be active. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents get at least an hour of physical activity each day. But given the choice, many children will choose TV over a bike ride. Swanson suggests signing kids up for a sport. Sports leagues build confidence, teach teamwork, improve social skills, and lower the risk of substance abuse, he says. Challenge kids to get active by walking a certain number of steps each day or improving their time on a run, says Breger. Reward them for their accomplishment, such as a trip to a local water park, a sleepover, or tickets to a professional sporting event.

Create some structure. Children need some routine, whether it's staying with Grandma for a couple of days, attending summer school to get ahead, or going to camp for a week or two (many offer financial assistance). Volunteering or working as a camp counselor will also keep them active. "Teenagers need direction and purpose for their day," says Alice Iorio, president of Champion Parenting, which provides support for parents. "I firmly believe in maintaining somewhat of a schedule even in the summer months." Swanson suggests arranging get-togethers with other kids who are active. Children may be resistant but are less likely to give friends or another parent a hard time. Perhaps there is a responsible parent who can organize a neighborhood kickball game, Greifenstein says.

For those days when the children are home, give them a list of chores to complete, says Sarah Krieger, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "There's a little bit of exercise and it keeps them from sitting all day."

[See 5 Great Diets for the Whole Family.]

Be a role model. Parents need to lead by example. It's unreasonable to expect kids to be healthy when you skip breakfast and grab cookies on your way to a meeting, Breger says. By modeling healthy habits, you are promoting the behavior. Swanson agrees. He encourages families to exercise together, whether it's taking a walk or riding bikes. "You can tell your child to exercise. But practicing what you preach leads to a greater chance that your child will respect your concerns and engage in the activity."