Saturday, May 19, 2012

Summer Vacation and Eating on the Road

Today, nearly one in three U.S. children is overweight or obese, and while summer should be a time to get up, get out and grow (physically and intellectually), kids will be at a greater risk for brain drain and weight gain when the school year ends. Research shows that without activities to keep their minds and bodies active, kids are likely to gain weight twice as fast * and show little to no academic growth over the summer than during the school year **. Despite these findings, only 21 percent of American parents rank overall physical health as a top concern for their children, while 20 percent rank education as a top concern, according to national survey findings released today by YMCA of the USA (Y-USA).  ***

The Y’s second annual Family Health Snapshot, an online parents survey gauging how physically and intellectually active children are during the school year and summertime, also revealed that parents face many barriers to providing a healthy environment. Fifty percent of parents say technological distractions, such as cell phones and television, are a big barrier to getting their kids to engage in healthy behaviors, which is higher than last year.

“Summer weight gain and summer learning loss often go unnoticed, but they impact many of today’s youth. Some studies have shown that children’s BMI increases nearly twice as fast during the summer than during the school year,” says Dr. Matt Longjohn, senior director of chronic disease prevention for Y-USA. “To help kids stay healthy and retain important skills learned during the school year, we need to provide opportunities for kids to move and learn all summer long.”

Parents Doing a Better Job but Are Still Struggling

The Family Health Snapshot also found that although parents are spending more time with their children in general, 40 percent admit they could do a better job of encouraging their children to engage in physical activity, while 35 percent say they need to encourage more reading for fun. When asked which leisure activity parents most participate in with their children, nearly 85 percent of parents responded that they watch television with their children, which is a marked increase from last year’s survey of 74 percent of respondents.

During the school year, only 19 percent of kids play outside and get at least the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity seven days a week; only 17 percent of kids read books for fun every day; and only 12 percent of kids eat at least the recommended eight fruits and vegetables daily.  Parents are also struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle: only 11 percent get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity for adults each day; only 9 percent eat at least eight fruits and vegetables each day; nearly 50 percent report reading books with their kids less than one day a week and 30 percent admit only playing with their children three to four days a week.

With summer only a few weeks away, keeping kids healthy and active requires planning and preparation. To help parents begin thinking early about what their kids need to grow and achieve all summer long here are five ideas to help families combat summer brain drain and weight gain:

1.     Plant a garden or visit the farmers market with your kids and prepare meals with the fresh produce, local farm raised meats and eggs.
2.     Take a bike ride or walk/run to visit your local library. Explore new books you and your kids may have missed to keep your mind sharp during summer.
3.     Have a family outing at your local park to get your heart pumping before evening meals. Play ball, run or create an obstacle course by using equipment in the park.  Take turns letting everyone in your family make up something and have fun!
4.     Start a book series and read together each night as a family. Reading at night keeps the brain buzzing and young minds active!
5.     Check out your local parks and recreation department for youth sport camps.  And here is an even better idea for overall development, enroll your child in a sport camp for an activity they have never tried or haven’t participated in for several years.

I will be holding two summer athletic development camps (emphasis on speed and quickness) at Troy Athens high school this summer June 18-22 from 9-10:30AM, and July 30-August 3 from 9-10:30AM.  I expose the kids to a wide range of drills, games and activities that will plant a few seeds in their fertile soil that along with a commitment to honoring the laws of nature will bear fruit in the form of highly refined sport skill while developing fitness that is durable.  For a more in-depth explanation of the above analogy read this:

With a commitment to improving the health of your family and the overall development of your children through active play and social interaction you can make a significant impact on the relationships with your children while also providing a foundation for health that will serve them for a lifetime.

Summer provides a tremendous opportunity to create real change while building strong bodies and minds in the process.  Enjoy the natural wonders this state has to offer.  Get your family and friends together, go outside have fun and get your body and mind fit!

Food for thought:

Last week I wrote about how many go-to snacks for children are laden with low quality ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.  I know many of you are on the run and preparing nutritious meals is not always an option in spite of your best efforts.  Here are few snack ideas and places to stop in a pinch:

Best snack ideas for convenience and when you are on the road.  At most you will need a small cooler bag:

Grass fed hard cheese varieties.  Sliced into cubes and placed in snack bags.  Cheese goes well with fruit or nuts.

Nuts are an excellent snack that travels well, almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews to name a few.

Fruits that travel well are grapes, bananas and apples.  Even dried fruit without added sugar is a good snack option when combined with nuts or cheese.

Make your own trail mix with variety of nuts and dried fruits (figs, blueberries, cherries, raisins, apricots, goji berries) and even some dark chocolate chips (70% cacao content or more).

Beef, turkey and chicken jerky are also good sources of protein.  Just look for varieties that don't contain high fructose corn syrup or crazy preservatives or artificial flavoring like MSG.

Most protein bars out there are loaded with low-quality ingredients.  I have been using the Vega bar below and it's a nice option to have in a pinch. Contains no low-quality ingredients.  I would advise buying one or two bars to sample first.  I like the taste but see if it passes the kid test before buying a whole box.

Vega Sport Protein Bars:
You can pick these up at Whole Foods or Plum Market.

Great snack options here like nuts, dried fruits, grass fed beef jerky, free-range chicken jerky and granola.  Plus 15% of the proceeds support youth fitness and character development.  All of these products are made with high quality pure ingredients:
I used to eat Clif Bars for convenience but have gotten away from them because they are heavily processed with as much if not more sugar than a candy bar.  In addition the protein source in these bars is of low quality.  I would recommend them only if nothing else is readily available and only before or after intense physical activity.


Panrea Bread-Most of their salads are good options and they use antibiotic and all natural chicken and turkey.  The sandwiches are loaded with more calories than you may realize.  Solution, buy one and share with your child.

Chipotle-Their slogan is food with integrity.  Chipotle states that they prefer to work with family farmers who are good stewards of their land.  They attempt to work with small and local farmers when possible but the sheer size and scope of that operation makes the quest nearly impossible.  Chipotle is still a far better option than most quick serves.

The Big Salad-Pretty simple concept here, build your own salad with various ingredients.  Watch out for the dressings and load up with vegetables, dried fruit and nuts.  Go lighter with the meats and cheeses as they are processed in some manner but it’s better than most other quick serves.  Locations on Big Beaver and Rochester Road in Troy and Woodward near 14 Mile in Birmingham.

*[von Hippel, P.T., Powell, B., Downey, D.B., & Rowland, N., American Journal of Public Health, “The effect of school on overweight in childhood: Gains in children’s body mass index during the school year and during summer vacation”, April 2007]

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