Summer snacking and childhood obesity

quick tip mercyMost school-age kids are officially home for summer now, so you may find that your refrigerator and cabinet doors are opening a LOT more often these days as kids have all-day access to snacks. We asked Dr. Cassie Dyer, a pediatrician at Mercy, to give us some tips on how to help kids avoid an unhealthy weight gain that might be triggered by summertime grazing habits.

Do kids tend to gain more weight during summer break when they’re home for most of the day and able to “graze” on snacks and drinks instead of eating primarily at meal times?

Kids can certainly gain more weight during the summer months if they’re increasing intake through more snacks, sugary or fatty snacks, or if they’re decreasing activity. Grazing behaviors in kids can go both ways as far as weight change. Some kids may add on to their normal daily calorie intake (and gain weight) by grazing, while other kids may actually eat less during the day if they only graze rather than eat meals. Often the types and amounts of calories kids get through snacks aren’t as balanced as those we get at meal times. Try and maintain a normal meal and snack schedule during the summer months and encourage lots of activity!

What kinds of snacks should and should NOT be within reach during summer break? Should parents discourage snacking altogether?

Try and include fruit and vegetable snacks in addition to whole grains as much as possible when your child needs a snack. Processed snacks and sugary snacks can absolutely add unwanted calories to your child’s food intake without adding much else! Chips, candy bars and ice cream should be given few and far between! Depending on the age of your child, they may still require a small morning or afternoon snack to keep them going during the day, so eliminating snacks all together isn’t always the right answer. The closer you stick to a routine involving set meals and snack times, the better!

Should we be teaching kids to focus on a snack’s caloric content or the sugar content? Does the sugar content pose a bigger risk of weight gain?

The sugar content as a component of calories in a specific snack should definitely be something parents take into account when making good choices. Snacks that have a balanced mix of protein, fats and sugars are the best. Many snacks that are “low-fat” have a much higher sugar content to make up for that lost flavor. For example, flavored “low-fat” yogurts have large amounts of sugar in them to make them taste good. You can avoid this by buying unflavored/plain yogurt and add a little honey or cinnamon and fresh fruit to make it taste a little sweeter without adding as many calories. Making your own snacks from raw ingredients is a great way to avoid unhealthy additives in processed/packaged foods.

Elementary school-age children are at a great stage to learn about eating healthy. You can talk about the difference in snacks (healthy vs. unhealthy) without getting into too much detail as far as calories and sugar content and still make an impact in their future choices. As kids get older, to middle school or high school age, being more specific about calories and where we get our calories (i.e. from fats, sugars, proteins) can be good lessons.

cassie dyerIf you’d like to talk to a doctor with in-depth knowledge about childhood weight issues, you can schedule an appointment with Dr. Cassie Dyer by calling the Mercy pediatric clinic in Bentonville at 479-636-9234 or click HERE for more clinic info.