Summer Snacking and Weight Gain
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.
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.
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:
- 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.")
- 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.
- 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!
- Always sit to eat; no eating on the run or while performing other activities. No snacking while watching TV!
- 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.
- 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.
- Help children get their mind off food by steering them towards alternate activities. Prepare by having a list of activities in mind.
- 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!
Do you see kids "constantly eating" and gaining weight during the summer?