I love summer. In fact, I spend much of the year waiting for it to arrive. Living in the Northeast can do that to a person.
Summer brings a relaxed schedule, later bed times and getting up times, no lunches to pack in the wee hours of the morning, and of course, sunny days and warm weather.
But it also brings loose schedules, last minute adventures, and sometimes unpredictable eating.
The truth is, summer can be a tough time for families to stay on the healthy living and activity path. In fact, many families I have worked with find that summer is really hard.
Some kids will experience summer weight gain, despite the availability of unlimited outdoor time, and healthy food like fruits and vegetables at their peak.
Why do some kids gain extra weight over the summer?
Unstructured and Unsupervised Time
A 2007 study from the American Journal of Public Health studied the rate of weight gain in Kindergartners over the summer before entry into first grade.
They found that BMI levels increased faster during summer vacation than during the school year, especially for black and Hispanic children, and children who were already overweight.
The researchers speculated that the lack of structure during the summer coupled with less supervision around eating contributed to weight gain.
A 2013 review in Childhood Obesity on the topic of weight gain in kids over the summer found a decline in physical activity to be the primary factor.
Another factor, the duration of sleep, may also be influential. Children may get less sleep over the summer, as bedtimes may be more relaxed. Unlike teens that tend to compensate for lack of sleep by sleeping in on the weekends, children are not as likely to do so.
Food offerings and parental feeding practices, such as being more lenient with treats during the summer, may also contribute to unhealthy weight gain over the summer.
The authors concluded that several factors may contribute to summer weight gain in kids, and noted that schools provide a positive structure and supervision that aids in children’s healthy weight status.
Tips for Preventing Unhealthy Summer Weight Gain
As you start your summer season with kids in tow (all the time!), I want you to keep these tips for a successful summer in mind, while preventing excess summer weight gain:
1. Stay on schedule
As much as you can, keep a regular time frame for sleep (up at a certain time and to bed at a certain time). Serve meals and snacks at usual times, and if meals get stretched out later because of fun, don’t fill your kids up with more snacks. Instead, keep these summer snacking tips in mind.
2. Limit the number of snacks
This is where many families trip up—they allow too many snacks during those long summer days. Instead, make sure you have a snack strategy! Snacks should be healthy, representing 2 or 3 food groups for balance and nutrition. Encourage your child to take a break to eat them.
3. Encourage free play
Encourage your child to get outside and play as much as possible. In the heat of the day, have some indoor activity, like games or puzzles.
4. Limit TV and computers
We live in a media-focused society, but this can be a problem for a child’s ability to grow and maintain steady weight increases. If you allow TV, computer, or a mobile phone, limit their use to less than two hours per day. Make sure the rest of the day is filled with activity—playing outside, swimming, playing a sport, or other physical fun.
5. Watch sugary treats
Treats can take over the summer diet if you’re not careful. Keep a cap on sugar, such as sugary beverages, desserts and fried food, limiting them to an average of one or two (at the most) per day.
6. Use water as the primary drink
Sugary beverages like soda, sports drinks, ice cream drinks, smoothies and juice can contribute quite a bit of calories to the daily diet. Kids, and even their parents sometimes forget that drinks have calories. Water is calorie-free and a great way to keep kids hydrated all summer long.
For more tips on preventing and managing extra weight, be sure to read my Healthy Living: 12 Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child series.
How do you plan to manage summer eating and activity?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: June 10, 2015
Updated on: October 5, 2019