Fighting Brain Drain and Weight Gain: New YMCA Survey Reveals Parents Struggle to Keep Kids Fit

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Today, nearly one in three US children is overweight or obese, and while summer should be a time to get up, get out and grow, kids will be at a greater risk for brain drain and weight gain when the school year ends. Research shows that without activities to keep their minds and bodies active, kids are likely to gain weight twice as fast and show little to no academic growth over the summer than during the school year. Despite these findings, only 21 percent of American parents rank overall physical health as a top concern for their children, while 20 percent rank education as a top concern, according to national survey findings released today by YMCA of the USA (Y-USA).

The Y's second annual Family Health Snapshot, an online parents survey gauging how physically and intellectually active children are during the school year and summertime,  also revealed that parents face many barriers to providing a healthy environment. Fifty percent of parents say technological distractions, such as cell phones and television, are a big barrier to getting their kids to engage in healthy behaviors, which is higher than last year.

With summer less than two months away, keeping kids healthy and active requires planning and preparation. To help parents begin thinking early about what their kids need to grow and achieve all summer long, the Y is celebrating YMCA's Healthy Kids Day on April 28. Healthy Kids Day, the largest health day of its kind in the nation, is an initiative of the Y to improve the health and well-being of kids. More than 1,900 Ys across the country are holding free community events for hundreds of thousands of families, filled with fun, active play and educational opportunities to help parents improve their kids' lifestyles for the long term.

"Summer weight gain and summer learning loss often go unnoticed, but they impact many of today's youth. Some studies have shown that children's BMI increases nearly twice as fast during the summer than during the school year," says Dr. Matt Longjohn, senior director of chronic disease prevention for Y-USA. "To help kids stay healthy and retain important skills learned during the school year, the Y provides opportunities for kids to move and learn all summer long." 

Parents Doing a Better Job but Are Still Struggling

The Family Health Snapshot also found that although parents are spending more time with their children in general, 40 percent admit they could do a better job of encouraging their children to engage in physical activity, while 35 percent say they need to encourage more reading for fun. When asked which leisure activity parents most participate in with their children, nearly 85 percent of parents responded that they watch television with their children, which is a marked increase from last year's survey of 74 percent of respondents. 

During the school year, only 19 percent of kids play outside and get at least the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity seven days a week; only 17 percent of kids read books for fun every day; and only 12 percent of kids eat at least the recommended eight fruits and vegetables daily.  Parents are also struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle: only 11 percent get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity for adults each day; only 9 percent eat at least eight fruits and vegetables each day; nearly 50 percent report reading books with their kids less than one day a week and 30 percent admit only playing with their children three to four days a week.

"As our nation's leading nonprofit dedicated to youth development, the Y is committed to addressing critical gaps in communities that negatively affect our kids, particularly in the areas of summer learning loss and summer weight gain," says Neil Nicoll, president and CEO of Y-USA. "For over 160 years, the Y has helped kids learn, grow and thrive during summer months by providing quality activities and resources that help kids reach their full potential."

Following are five ideas to help families combat summer brain drain and weight gain:

  1. Give your kids a jump rope. It's an awesome way to have fun and keep moving. They can go solo or get others in on the fun. Commit to healthy living by keeping the bodies and minds in your home active this summer.
  2. Visit your local library. Explore new books you and your kids may have missed to keep your mind sharp during summer.
  3. Have a family outing at your local park to get your heart pumping before evening meals. Play ball, run or create an obstacle course by using equipment in the park. Take turns letting everyone in your family make up something and have fun!
  4. Take a walking staycation. Map out a new neighborhood or hiking trail in your area and get your family to explore on foot. It's a great way to make Saturday a healthy, active start to the weekend.
  5. Start a book series and read together each night as a family. Reading at night keeps the brain buzzing and young minds active!

With a commitment to strengthening community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, the Y holds Healthy Kids Day to teach healthy habits and inspire a lifetime love of physical activity through active play. Healthy Kids Day is generously supported by the Dodge brand, which is committed to furthering the health and well-being of families. To learn more or to find a local Healthy Kids Day event, visit ymca.net/healthy-kids-day/.