A Summer Guide for Children's Health
Kids experience summer differently. It’s a break from school and a seemingly endless play date in the sun. For some, it may mean camp and seeing old friends. For teenagers, it might mean a summer job and independence, but it’s not only the day to day that differs between children and adults in the summer. Children are at greater risk for the common health pitfalls of the season, such as dehydration, heat stroke and sunburn.
So for parents, summer can call for a pivot from the school year routines they’ve grown accustomed to.
While the foundations of a healthy lifestyle won’t change, here are three ways summer can affect your child’s health.
Children of all ages need sleep to refresh, re-energize and grow healthy bodies. According to the National Sleep Foundation, missing even 30 to 60 minutes of sleep can have an impact. Research shows an early bedtime (between 7-8 pm) works best for babies and kids through school age. While summer may seem like the opportunity for later nights and sleeping in, a consistent bedtime is one of the most essential healthy sleep habits. If you do choose to extend your child’s bedtime, be sure to ease into and out of it when school is on the horizon. With younger children, naps may still be necessary. If you’re out during the day, be sure to provide a nap break for your kids – you may even take one and feel re-invigorated.
Childhood obesity is parents’ number one health concern, according to a 2015 national poll on children’s health, and summer is a particularly risky time. Ice cream, slushies and the like are in abundance, while kids may not be as active outside of school sports. Although summer brings with it many delicious treats, don’t overlook the equally tasty and nutritious seasonal fruits and vegetables that are readily available. For lunches and snacks, consider providing a salad, fruit salad or a bowl of mixed berries, freshly roasted veggie chips, fruit smoothie or a veggie stuffed pita and always have cut veggies available with a tasty dip, salsa or hummus for snacking.
Outdoor play is beneficial to everyone, especially children. Not only is it fun, it’s healthy. Playing outside benefits physical and mental health and there are plenty of ways to get kids involved in regular, organized summer activities, in addition to any swimming, biking or hiking trips you want to plan as a family.
While the outdoors offers endless opportunities to get active, time outside also represents a particular risk for children. For one, kids’ bodies do not cool down as efficiently as adults, which puts them at greater risk for dehydration during time outside. Of more lasting damage, however, is the increased risk children face from the sun.
Children’s skin is thinner and more sensitive. Plus, their immune systems are less mature than adults. They also spend considerably more time in the sun than adults: 50-75 percent of your lifetime sun exposure occurs before you turn 18. And while many teenagers spend most summer days in the sun, only 57 percent report using sunscreen. Melanoma can take as many as twenty years to develop, so exposure during childhood represents a very real increased risk.
When you’re outside, follow these healthy habits for the whole family:
- Apply sunscreen every two hours.
- Wear SPF protective sunglasses and hats.
- Take frequent water breaks to stay hydrated. It’s not a bad idea to take these indoors or in a shady spot when at all possible.
- Apply bug spray if you’re going for a hike in a wooded area – and don’t forget to do a tick check to prevent Lyme disease before going inside for the night.