Health NW: Keeping kids fit and healthy this summer

<center>Kathryn B. Brown, FNP</center>

Kids and summer vacation. These words evoke images of children at play: swimming, climbing trees, building forts, playing tag in the park, fishing and enjoying the great outdoors.

The reality for many kids today is they spend much of their summer vacation indoors, watching TV and playing video games. These diversions require less mental and physical effort, and some kids prefer them to playing outside.

What should parents and caregivers do?

The temptation is often to let kids stay indoors. After all, that way you know where they are and what they're doing. Playing indoors seems safer, and it is easier for adults.

But in the long run, kids who don't play outdoors are at risk of becoming inactive and obese. Along with obesity come a whole slew of health problems and a lifetime of struggle against excess weight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting television and video games to no more than two hours per day, with an emphasis on educational and nonviolent programs.

Kids should be encouraged to spend as many hours a day as possible outdoors, whether it's doing a structured activity such as soccer practice or just goofing around on the playground.

Here are some summertime activity ideas:

• let kids set up a tent in your yard as a place to play and pretend

• set up a sprinkler and/or kiddie pool in your back yard

• set up an obstacle course in your yard or in the park using simple objects like hula hoops, garden hoses and cardboard boxes that kids can jump over, crawl under and run around

• swimming lessons (most children are ready to learn anytime after their fourth birthday)

• local sports camps or classes: soccer, basketball, tennis, track, gymnastics or whatever sports interest your child

• colored chalk can be used on concrete patios, sidewalks and driveways to create hopscotch courts and art (it washes off easily with a garden hose)

• older kids should be encouraged to walk, bike or skate to get where they want to go, instead of always depending on an adult to give them a ride

When kids play outdoors, they get hungry and thirsty. Summertime is a great time to get kids interested in natural, healthy foods.

Fruits in season like berries and melons make great snacks. So do carrot and celery sticks, cucumber or zucchini slices and cherry tomatoes. Frozen fruit juice makes healthy popsicles.

Have an outdoor picnic and let kids make their own sandwiches. You supply the bread, peanut butter, bananas, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, turkey, lettuce, tomatoes or whatever else you have in the kitchen. Let the kids put it together. They may come up with some bizarre combinations, but it's a good chance for them to discover new foods and learn what types of foods taste good together.

Fast food is cheap and easy, but eating it regularly sets kids up for a lifetime of poor eating habits. Kids raised on fast food get used to foods high in fat and salt, and low in fiber and nutrition.

This summer, help the kids in your life stay active and eat well. A little "tough love" might be needed at first, as you limit their television and video game viewing and introduce healthier foods. But, the rewards are worth it since the habits they learn when they are young will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Kathryn B. Brown is a family nurse practitioner with a master's degree in nursing from OHSU. Is there a health topic you would like to read about? Send your idea to

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