While your children are on summer vacation, they’ll likely spend more time in front of televisions, cell phones and computers. To help them enjoy a healthy, happy summer, parents can set time limits for screen time and pay special attention to what their kids eat — especially since they’ll spend more time at home, perhaps bored, with the refrigerator close by.
“One of the biggest problems with not being active is obesity, which is also the consequence of a bad diet. In 2014, the child obesity average in the United States was 31.8 percent, and it is going up,” said nutritionist Judith Topete, who practices in Downey.
Ideal time for improving the diet
Summer can be an ideal time for children to develop healthier eating habits. “Those of us who are parents are responsible for our children’s nutrition because we decide what we are going to give them to eat,” said Topete. In addition to obesity, there are other health problems that can occur among young people as a result of poor eating habits and weight gain, such as low self-esteem and sleep apnea.
“What we need to do is decrease the amount of calories that our children consume. We must offer them a more balanced diet, for them to eat five meals of small portions of foods without saturated fats or chemicals,” explained Topete. “That is why it is important for us to learn to read labels, and explain to children the amount of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, etc., contained in the products so they learn to make better decisions.”
According to Topete, breakfast is the most important meal and it should contain protein, whole-wheat flour, fruits and low-fat milk — 2 percent is ideal for children — and gradually switch to almond milk. Children should consume about four ounces of red meat only once a week, and parents should offer them more fish, chicken and fat-free turkey.
“Don’t purchase nor have in your home any junk food nor foods high in sugar, such as cookies or big containers of ice cream because a child with nothing to do will eat them without measure,” she said. “If, for example, he or she wants ice cream, save it for Sunday and go as a family to buy one scoop and no more.”
The nutritionist also suggests restricting potatoes, bananas and grapes to once a week because these have a lot of sugar, and eliminating soda and sugar drinks. “Water is the only thing we should give our children,” she said.
Remember: children notice what their parents eat, so this summer, make it a point to eat more salads and, when preparing meals, include fruits and vegetables so that children learn to consume them, advised Topete.
“Explain to them, for example, what would happen if they were to get diabetes; show them information on the internet,” she said. “Don’t take them to fast food restaurants. It is also very important that both parents be in agreement with all of this.”
Move, child, move!
Topete emphasized that children need to be stimulated and that, instead of sitting around, they should get involved in sports and play with friends of their own age. “It is important that, as parents, we share with them some type of exercise, [such as] walking, outdoors sports, riding bicycles, more so now during the summer. If they don’t burn calories, they will gain weight. They need to be active,” she said. It is also important to try to avoid being outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when temperatures are highest.
In addition to physical consequences, being overweight carries potential psychological ones as well. “Overweight children are mocked in school; they feel different because they don’t find the correct size of clothing; they acquire complexes. Your children do not deserve that their quality of life be affected by being overweight,” she stressed.
Other summertime complications
There are other health issues that are more common during the summer months. According to Dr. Joseph Prieston, internal medicine specialist in Orange County, dehydration among minors is a serious problem, because many continue to hydrate the same as they do the rest of the year. Hydration must be increased during the summer.
Thirst is perceived when dehydration symptoms are already present. In order to avoid it, it is necessary to drink water even if we are not thirsty.
“Body temperature rises when high weather temperatures are registered, and if children spend a long time outside, they dehydrate,” he said. “Be aware of them appearing tired, sleepy, pale or if their skin gets red and hot. [Also], if they have diarrhea or vomiting, sunken eyes, a dry tongue and if their body temperature rises — these are all [possible signs of dehydration].”
If dehydration is extreme, they must receive prompt medical attention because they could become critically ill. This is quite common among children who remain locked inside cars when it is very hot outside.
“The danger is the heat temperatures, which cause rapid dehydration and can result in death,” he stressed.
Dehydration during the summer could also cause viral infections, especially among the youngest children, with symptoms such as high fevers and respiratory problems, such as coughing and sneezing, or intestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
“They must be taken to the emergency room if they are vomiting or have diarrhea, and it is important to not give them any liquids through the mouth,” said Prieston. “The important thing is for them to hydrate.”
According to the doctor, adolescents tend to dehydrate when they go outside to play or exercise without paying attention to the time, and parents and/or caretakers are responsible for controlling that situation.
Safety in the water!
For children, one of the most fun things to do in the summer is to play at the beach or at the swimming pool, but be careful with the water!
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports swimming lessons for the majority of children 4 years of age or older. Water safety classes can also reduce drowning risks among little ones, but, because young children develop differently, not all of them are ready to swim at the same age, according to the AAP.
The academy advises never to leave a small child without adult supervision for even an instant while they are in bathtubs, pools, Jacuzzis or near irrigation channels or stagnant water.
An adult should always be at arms-length from babies, small children and from children who do not know how to swim. When it comes to older children and those who are good swimmers, an adult must remain attentive of the child and not get distracted with other activities. Lifeguards cannot be substitutes for such supervision if a parent or caretaker is available nearby.
According to American Red Cross statistics, 90 percent of water accidents take place in residential pools. In the majority of cases, parents were supervising the child and became distracted for a short moment.
If children attend a daycare center, ask about the proximity to water and the number of children who are supervised per adult. If you have a swimming pool, install a fence on four sides measuring at least four feet high. The fence must be difficult to climb (not chain-link), and have an automatic lock. Families can consider pool alarms and tight covers as additional protection methods, but none of these can replace a fence.
Another recommendation from both the AAP and the Red Cross is that parents, caretakers and swimming pool owners learn about cardiovascular resuscitation. Also, they must avoid using air-filled swimming devices.