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Calorie Count Blog

Summer Snacking and Weight Gain


By Mary_RD on Jul 22, 2011 10:00 AM in Dieting & You
Edited By +Rachel Berman

If it looks like your little kids are gaining weight this summer, it's probably true. Research shows that kids gain weight during summer vacation, although that wasn't always the case.  I have to believe that one reason is that they are "constantly eating."  The article below addresses kids, but the concepts apply to adults too.

Constant eating

A recent retrospective study of kids' snacking treads over the past 20 years found that "kids are moving towards a constant-eating pattern."  Snacking has increased in each of four surveys taken between 1989 and 2006. Presently, US kids eat 27 percent of their daily calories in the form of snacks, typically eaten three times a day in-between meals. The biggest calorie increase was found in the little ones, 2- to 6-year-old, who consume, on average, an extra 182 calories a day from snacks.  A yogurt here (110 calories), a freeze pop there (50 calories), a cookie (80 calories), a donut (200 calories), and another juice box.  They all add calories above and beyond needs.

Summer weight gain

In another study of 5 and 6 year-old children, weight gain was found to be faster and more variable in the summer compared to the school year.  The study measured the pediatric BMIs of 5380 children during kindergarten and first-grade with an eye to the difference between school year and summer weight gain.  Weight gain was found to be faster in the summer, especially for African American children, Hispanic children and children who were already overweight. Perhaps children aren't as active as they used to be - coupled with the pattern of constant eating.

Learned behaviors

My friend once remarked that when her baby was little, car seats did not contain cup holders but, by the time her child was a toddler, all the car seats did.  She said kids now ask for a snack - a "Pavlov's dog" reaction - while being snapped-in.

Eating and snacking habits are learned behaviors that anyone can re-learn. For a how-to guide, I turned to the works of Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and family therapist, who has been teaching families how to eat right for more than 20 years.  Here is my Ellen Satter inspired advice:

  1. In a pre-teaching moment when your school-age children are not hungry, tell them exactly what you want them to do.  (“We are not going to eat in-between meals unless we are actually hungry because it is not good to eat more than you need.")
  2. Don't buy "junk food" such as soda, cookies and chips unless there is a party.  Instead, you and your kids can bake your own treats using ripe fruit, milk and eggs.
  3. Serve the family three wholesome and balanced meals per day, and if a child doesn't like that food, then he or she can eat again at a designated  snack time.  Do not become a short-order cook! 
  4. Always sit to eat; no eating on the run or while performing other activities.  No snacking while watching TV!
  5. In-between meals, serve young children small "purposeful snacks" consisting 2 or 3 wholesome foods. Purposeful snacks include half sandwiches, cereal milk and fruit, peanut butter crackers and yogurt, and other "real" foods.  Older children may choose from the same snacks at the mid-point between meals if they are hungry. 
  6. Before they eat a snack, always ask young and older children, "Are you hungry?"  Allow them to refuse the snack for any reason.  If they complain about the available food selection, then assume they are not hungry and they'll eat later.  
  7. Help children get their mind off food by steering them towards alternate activities.  Prepare by having a list of activities in mind.
  8. Compliment the child for the desired behavior and be as specific as possible.  (“That was a good idea to skip the snack since you weren't  hungry.  What did you do instead?").

With just a little patience, you can retrain your kids and yourself.  And then reward the parents for making it all work! 

 
Your thoughts...

Do you see kids "constantly eating" and gaining weight during the summer?



Comments


I find the same reaction with my little boy (19 months) in the car.  It's not food, but a drink.  He only drinks milk and water, the occasional juice maybe 1-2 times per week. 

I hope that I'll have it easier with him - he doesnt like to snack, especially if he's not hungry - he'll just throw it.  But if the pantry is left open, he grabs whatever he can reach and says "snack, snack", so I know that he is not truely hungry... he just happened to be at the right place to get his hands on some food.



I agree with the article but even a bigger part of it could be these kids get way less activity. Kids used to play outside all day and never want to come in the house to watch tv, play computer games etc.. but now it seems like that is all they want to do, at least most of the kids..



i agree with networkmom!  Kids used to snack more during the summer because they were outside running around in the heat, not sitting down for more than five minutes at a time.  Now, they're watching cartoons or playing their x-box or whatever it is now for hours at a time.  When we were kids, we got locked out of the house during the day and told we'd be called in for lunch.  We had no other choice but to run around, walking up and down the streets from friend's house to friend's house, constantly looking for stuff to do.  We were riding bikes or chasing each other through sprinklers or playing elaborate chase games (boys v. girls) or what have you.  We burned way more calories than we did sitting at our desks all day during the school year and needed the extra boosts.  I think kids today eat more for something to do because they're bored or because they want to practice their instant gratification techniques.  Hunger has little to do with eating anymore for these kids!



Agree that both the food and the lack of activity are responsible.  As tv games and computers are more available now, kids are just not as interested in outside.  So we have a rise in calories combined with a decline of calories burned. Double wammy!  I do not see it getting any better till those kids decide what is healthier.  As a mom of two tweens that decision is not yet made by them so I have to step in and mediate...ultimatly they are still under my care and responsibility till 18.  Untill then it is me who decides the snacks and activity.  Parents have to care enough to put the effort (sometimes it really does take effort because you have to listen to the whines and bickering) into really watching what kids do and how to guide them.  Many kids mine included will complain when they are told to go outside.  We live on an island in the smack in the middle of the South Pacific and East China Sea and it is hot but they will not melt with sunscreen and proper hydration.  Just doing short stints outside a couple times a day may make a huge difference in habits of health.



My son is 6 1/2 and the summer camp that he is in is extremely active! He actually lost weight......at 8 pm he is a veggie!



as a teen and therefore close to the kids of this generation, I would like to say that YES, kids to play video games and watch TV a lot, but whose fault is it?

It's in these situations that I find parents are often responsible.  Parents aren't as strict as they used to be and may be annoyed that their children do nothing but watch TV - but do they do anything about it?

Same for snacking. What kind of parent keeps cookies in the house at all times?

And if you do have cookies in your house, for goodness sake, keep them out of the kiddies’ reach!

My mother and father, fortunately, are big on health so when I was little snacks consisted of pretzels, fruit, and the like. My mother restricted TV and computer time to 2 hours a day, and in order to get paid allowance, I must exercise every day (walking two miles, 20 minutes of cardio, riding a bike 10 miles).

I am seventeen now and although my mother doesn’t maintain the rules like she used to, I’ve grown to follow them.



When I was a kid, I remember eating 100g packs of white chocolate very often in the summer. And ofcourse, there's ice cream. And meeting so many family members and relatives which meant treats and desserts.

Now though, my appetite goes low because of the heat.


I recently angered my grandsons, who I only see once a year, by telling them that there would be no eating or drinking in Grandma's car.  They were agast! It would cut into their "snack" time.  Really?  Do you think that you need a snack after you just spent 3 hours playing video games and now sitting in the car for 30 minutes? If you had been outside moving your bodies...maybe a snack is warranted.  Not when you sit around all day!  They have both gained quite a bit of weight over the past year....I think snacking and gaming have a lot to do with childhood obesity period!



I can remember gaining weight as a child during the Summer months.   Summer break from school always brought many road trips. Road trips = junk food in my family.  My Dad & Mom would stop at gas stations on our bathroom breaks and never leave without a soda & snack... it was a hard habit to break as an adult, but I now pack the car with healthy alternatives before leaving on long road trips! Not to mention trips to Grandma's house where she baked a new desert EVERY SINGLE DAY!! Gotta love Grandma!Smile



Yes, kids do stay inside more now than ever before.  The neighborhoods are not as safe as they used to be.  At least where I live.  When I was a child my sister and I were all over the neighborhood, walking or riding our bikes everywhere -- the pool, the park, a friends house-- we were everywhere!  And when we snacked it was a piece of cheese, or and apple, banana, or and orange, or a carrot.  We rarely had soda pop or chips. 

My kids are grade school age and they stay inside because there is alot going on in our neighborhood that I do not trust.  However, we spend most of our summer at parks and at the pool.  We walk to the grocery store (its only a block away) and carry the bags home.  Sometimes we go hiking in the hills nearby.  When we snack it is cheese, yogurt, fruit or veggies.  I keep a plate of washed summer fruit on the coffee table.  We don't eat chips  and we don't drink soda pop  (my kids don't even like them).  They like having a dessert after supper so we will have a cookie or one scoop of icecream.  If they want a treat during the day I sometimes offer a piece of bubble gum (they're learning to blow bubbles). 

I've had people actually tell me my kids are too skinny!!  They don't look any different than my sister, my brother, and I did when we were their age.  And the same people who complain about my kids being too skinny also complain that their kids would never walk to the store with them or go hiking or spend all day at the park.   I love doing these things so I think that my enthusiasm rubs off on them.    



The other factor that needs to be considered is the school environment and the tons of machines they have. It's harder to buy an apple and a bottle of water when such things like Snapple and Pepsi are more alluring. Part of it is teaching self restraint, but if people aren't willing to be more active in teaching our kids responsibility and playing outside, we only have ourselves to blame.

As a semi non sequitur- It's been way too long since I've had a legit snow fight, and I miss that. I don't even see kids doing that anymore.



I agree with both vickielynn12 and lupeth: If the children are gaining wait from poor nutritional choices and lack of physical activity, how is that anything but the parents fault?  

Children, to the best of my knowledge, don't have sources of income other than what their parents provide.  Sure, they want the sugary fatty snacks, but it is the adults who provide them.  Yeah they want to stay indoors and play television games, but it is the adult who supplied the game. 

You want your kids to enjoy nutritious foods?  Show them that nutritious foods are enjoyable. 

You want you kids to go play outside?  Go play outside with them. 

People learn what they live.  I am a teacher and have yet to meet the child that does not, to some degree, accept and mimic their parents choices and opinions. 



I took the day off yesterday from counting my calories, however my wife was watching everything I put to my face. I took in 1858 calories without even counting.

I have a question for anybody. My body is stiff in  the morning from walking in  working out from the day before. Whay kind of vitamins can I take to wake my body up in the morning?

 



My parents never made me eat healthy, but in the summer I was always outside from the moment I woke up to the moment it started getting dark. My mom actually had to bring my lunch outside, because I never wanted to stop playing! I was very small until my parents bought me a computer..

My brother on the other hand spent a lot of time inside. He was very overweight. I think part of it was definitely genetics though, he took after my dad's side of the family.

When I have kids I'm going to make sure I live in a safe neighborhood, and I'm going to "lock" my kids outside like my grandparents used to do to me. It's not harsh, it opens up a whole new world of imagination to kids, way past all the silly video games they play now. And if they just can't stand the outdoors, then there's no way cookies will be within reach.



Great article! Funny isn't it how those SAME habits are ones we as adults need to learn when we're trying to be more healthful? For example "Hmmm am I really hungry? If I'm not hungry I can skip snack, what should I do instead..?"

 

:-)



I've read some of Ellyn Satter's work before, and I'm reminded of a story my niece told me:  she had taken her 4 year old son and a friend somewhere, and they stopped at a restaurant before going home.  The little friend said "I don't like anything here, you have to take me to McDonald's."  He kept insisting that he didn't want anything from there but she figured that nuggets are nuggets and ordered them for him (not the most nutritious choice, but also not the point).  He ate all of his own order and cleaned up some of my nephew's as well.  If she had listened to him and taken him to McDonald's afterwards, it would have reinforced the idea that he can demand what he wants when he wants, and how many kids today have the same idea?  The fast food mentality is doing us all in. 



Woah! That little kid is a total brat! When I was that age I knew already that you don't tell mom you won't eat whatever it is that we're having that night- and that it was not ok for me to demand micky D's. :-O



Yeah same here. Once school ended i gained about 2 pounds. Good thing that was the past :)



Smacklin091- you're right on the target! That is exactly true. When I feel hungry between meals, I tell myself to have a glass of water. If I still feel hungry, then I am in fact, really hungry.

I get my kids involved in summer weekly camps to keep them from being indoors, watching TV, playing video games, snacking and fighting. They attend 4 weeks of Art in Nature Day Camp where they participate in the learning of art within nature, take hikes, go on field trips, etc. They also each attend their age appropriate Boy/Cub Scout Resident Summer Camp for 4-7 days (depending on age). Again, lots of hiking, swimming, canoeing, bb gun shooting, archery, fishing...outdoors!! They love it. It keeps them busy, making new friends, learning values, connected to the outdoors, disconnected from their toys, and my eldest always "loses his tummy" during the summer vacation, as he puts it. For field trips and sack lunches, I don't restrict all their snacks to veggies and fruits. I also include cheezits, fruit snacks, a little treat.

However, when we are home during the weekends, I set a bowl of fresh organic fruit on the table: melon, cherries, strawberries, etc. It really deters them from opening the pantry for other snacks.

Now, if I can just be as strict with myself at the office, as I am with them :)



@AllDog:  I wish YOU were my mother-in-law!! hahaha

In this day and age, we have to watch so carefully what we are feeding our kids; there's a neverending array of garbage out there that's marketed as "healthy" or "low fat"!

My sister-in-law is constantly giving her kid those "Crunchies" (Gerber snacks) and other junk of the like.  They are PACKED with sodium, etc.  I don't see how this is a good thing at all!

The current problem I'm running into, is that my in-laws think that we are being to strict with how we are raising our children.  No dinner = No dessert... even at family events... and people don't seem to like this idea of thought (specifically my mother-in-law).

But our problem isn't necessarily with junk food, but actually with fruit!  My daughter would eat us out of house and home with fruit if she could (she's 2).  But she's very sensitive to the fibre in it, so I ask to "please don't give her too much fruit."  It's high in sugar, she reacts to all the fibre and it pushes food through her too quickly, etc etc. I explain this too them and they just roll their eyes... They turn it around and say that they don't agree with how we're parenting. :-/

I think summer camps are a great idea -- I can't wait until my children are old enough to start participating (most don't start until at least 3 years of age).

As some of the other PP's have mentioned, when we were kids, you were pretty much locked out of the house and told to come in for lunch/dinner.  SO TRUE! 

RE: the comments about vending machines -- where we grew up, they recently changed it so that only healthy food options could be put into the vending machines! YAY!!! No more garbage!!! (ok... maybe it's a minor step in the right direction in the grand scheme of things, but I think that's awesome!)

If there's ever a day where I don't get outside for whatever reason (too much laundry/washing diapers/not feelng well... whatever the case may be), but daughter (2) actually demands that she we go outside.  Even if it's just in our back yard, she's happy as a clam to run up and down the little grassy hill!  It doesn't really take much to get your kids outside!

It makes me sad to see so may obese children these days...



Original Post by: pinkloriann

Yes, kids do stay inside more now than ever before.  The neighborhoods are not as safe as they used to be.  At least where I live.  When I was a child my sister and I were all over the neighborhood, walking or riding our bikes everywhere -- the pool, the park, a friends house-- we were everywhere!  And when we snacked it was a piece of cheese, or and apple, banana, or and orange, or a carrot.  We rarely had soda pop or chips. 

My kids are grade school age and they stay inside because there is alot going on in our neighborhood that I do not trust.  However, we spend most of our summer at parks and at the pool.  We walk to the grocery store (its only a block away) and carry the bags home.  Sometimes we go hiking in the hills nearby.  When we snack it is cheese, yogurt, fruit or veggies.  I keep a plate of washed summer fruit on the coffee table.  We don't eat chips  and we don't drink soda pop  (my kids don't even like them).  They like having a dessert after supper so we will have a cookie or one scoop of icecream.  If they want a treat during the day I sometimes offer a piece of bubble gum (they're learning to blow bubbles). 

I've had people actually tell me my kids are too skinny!!  They don't look any different than my sister, my brother, and I did when we were their age.  And the same people who complain about my kids being too skinny also complain that their kids would never walk to the store with them or go hiking or spend all day at the park.   I love doing these things so I think that my enthusiasm rubs off on them.    


I agree with pinkloriann. The neighborhood's are not safe anymore like they use to be my two younger daughters are in tae kwan do and they take swimming lessons my two older daughters are in level 6 which is the highest they can go in their swimming lessons and my youngest is in level 5 of swimming lessons. Plus at school their lunch lady is a nutritionist so she has the kids eating brussel sprouts wish I would have had their lunch lady when I was a kid. My kids eat their fruits and vegetables and when they ask for dinner I give them Aunt Millie's bread and they have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  My 3 daughters are very active children. I let my daughter bike but I was watching her I will not let her go off and play with other kids alone unless I know the parents really well.



@pink and fcs: Sad to hear the neighborhoods are not safe anymore. 

I think our culture/population feels moving is a chore. I suggested to a teenager wanting to lose weight over the summer to aim for at least 2 hours a day of exercise. I was kind of shocked that a few people responded "2 hours is way too much!" When I was a teenager, I went to summer camp and played sports all day long. And my brother would bike or hike everywhere. It's kind of sad the average person can't put in 2 hours of an active activity but can fill in 3-4 hours of TV time.  



This article is soooooo dead on. I'm 18.. and growing up, I had two older siblings and both my parents had busy jobs. Therefore, they would actually encourage me to play video games and the such because I think they loved the fact they didn't have to participate or make an effort =P I don't blame them, but from experience - dang, I have to say it was one of the reason I ballooned up pretty fast. I'd just sit there, and snack as I videogamed / watched tv. I actually -wish- my parents had enrolled me in a sport or camp back then so I would've gotten off my butt!! Oh well, at least I've kicked the habit now =)



Oh man... Parents! I had an issue with my mother today (I am 21) I was babysitting all week this week and since my cousin and I had been eating healthy all week, I decided that I would get pizza today for lunch as a treat. My mom comes home and sees that we have eaten pizza, and tells me to be careful of what I am eating so that I don't gain back the 20 pounds I spent two months losing. Then about 20 minutes later, she says she is taking me out for dinner and asks me what I wanted to eat. I told her something healthy. She looks at me, shakes her head and says "Nahh, lets have Taco Bell". Talk about good parenting!

 



People tend to lose their appetite more in the summer.  I guess if they play sports during the school year it makes sense.  Otherwise,  I think more would be losing during he summer and gaining around the holidays.



When I was a kid I was running around with friends, going to the park and having adventures. I remember getting cookies only when they were home made or at special occasions. And when I wanted a snack I would pick strawberries from the garden or chase the ice cream truck for a Popsicle. I was a skinny little thing back then.

But my 6 year old niece hardly gets out of the house. She will be watching TV downstairs, and then goes upstairs to watch TV in her room. Her snacks consist of Frozen pancakes covered in syrup, cookies, or donuts (because her parents work at Dunkin Donuts and bring them home every day). They even have her drinking ice coffee with cream and sugar.

My niece is not fat by any stretch of the imagination, but if this keeps up she will be. Plus she is learning so many bad habits that will stick with her for life.



I am a mother of two very active and healthy weight children. My children PREFER fruits over most treats, but I have a different approach that I got from my pediatrician when my oldest was just a baby. He said to have a candy jar and a few treats in the house along with a lot of healthy choices. The candy jar was to be placed on top of the fridge or somewhere out of sight, but that I should try not to deny my child when she asks for a piece. The result: my children do NOT feel deprived. The candy is there whenever they want and they rarely ask about it (like less than once a month). I allow them to keep their halloween candy and candy that they get from birthday parties for a day or two and then into the candy jar it goes. I just threw out Easter candy. I throw out almost all the candy that comes into my house and people are always amazed that my kids don't really want candy and readily give it away. I think this was the BEST advice I ever got! I think you have to implement it early though when your child is very small and you have to always offer lots of healthy foods.

In addition to having a candy jar. I allow my children dessert and soda when we go out. Again, to everyone's surprise...they normally have two to three sips of soda and a few bites of dessert. We leave the table with lots of food left over. On the other hand, my friends that restrict their chidren from eating junk food...those children come over freaking out over my candy jar and everytime there is any junk food at all they gobble it up and beg for more. I think using a very passive approach to desserts and sweets can work if you are diligent about having healthy food available and make it not a very big deal from a very young age.

Just my two cents on what's worked for me!



Wow. Ultrajen, you made me want kids so I can teach them to eat properly, haha. I'm 18, but I'll keep this all in mind for if/when I have kids.

I remember we didn't get a lot of candy when we were little, just gummy dinos when we were being potty-trained (and they were kept way high in a cupboard). We did have a freezer with homemade cookies, though, except I wasn't in the habit of eating them because I couldn't reach the freezer or the microwave to heat them up. My favorite snacks were quartered kiwis and frozen blueberries, and half the charm was that my mom would fix them for me (really all she had to do was scoop berries into a bowl or slice up a kiwi).

The first time I tried packaged cookies I thought they were icky because they were all dry and tiny and flavorless. I can still never think of them as real cookies.



I babysit a few kids during summer-time evenings and I have never noticed an immense weight gain in the kids I watch. Weight gain isn't noticable if it's between 1 and 3 pounds; at least I don't have the eye for that. I don't think kids gain too much weight over the summer primarily because they're also busy running around and swimming, so although they may eat more, they also burn more. Then again, the parents of the family I babysit for are fairly healthy, and I always feed them a healthy dinner, so I guess that has a lot to do with it.

All throughout my school days, especially in high school, I was cogniscent of summer weight gain. I knew I was more active in the summer, however, I also knew I'd eat more than I burned. So I designated certain times of the day to eat, otherwise I'd have constantly snacked. I'd eat breakfast when I woke up, (usually between 8 and 10) but no morning snack. Then three hours from then I'd eat lunch. 2 and a half hours from lunch I'd have an afternoon snack, and depending on how hungry I was, I'd eat dinner between 4:30 and 7:00. Then I'd have a very small snack a couple hours later and I'd try to cap off my eating by 10 PM. 

One summer I think after sophomore year I didn't set certain times for me to eat, and I seriously never ate a single meal. I just ate food all throughout the day. A yogurt here, a burger there, a bowl of cherries there, some bread, a couple fudgsicles... Like I never sat down for a single meal, I just ate like 25 100 calorie sides a day. And I gained weight. So the next couple summers I took hold of my eating and set times. But elementary age kids don't realize how much they're eating, and aren't able to realize that constant snacking like that's wrong. Especially if their parents/babysitters condone it!



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