YMCA helps kids ‘Hop the Gap’

Henry Petersen, right, 7, of Sidney, child of Joe and Julie Petersen, squirts water during the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA’s Water Wars! event recently.

SIDNEY — Although most parents consider their children’s habits related to exercise and healthy eating to be high priorities, most may need additional information to help their kids reach these goals, according to a new national survey.

This gap may help explain why kids’ activity and eating behaviors don’t meet current recommendations. Achieving a healthy lifestyle is particularly important during the summer months, when kids are vulnerable to not only forgetting what they’ve learned during the school year but also to excessive weight gain.

More than 70 percent of parents were unaware of the recommended standards for healthy eating and physical activity for children, according to the YMCA’s Family Health Snapshot survey, conducted in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight. For example, only 29 percent of parents surveyed knew that half of their child’s plate at meals should be fruits and vegetables as recommended by USDA’s My Plate. More than half of parents surveyed thought the correct amount was one-third or less. And only about a quarter of parents knew that children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day.

Results of the Family Health Snapshot survey, based on responses of nearly 1,200 parents of kids 5-12, underscore the challenges parents face in ensuring that their kids maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially during the summer.

• While most parents (65 percent) accurately believe that leisure screen time should be limited to two hours or less each day, 64 percent report that their kids spend three or more hours per day online, playing video games or watching TV during the summer. That’s a 30 percent increase compared with results for the school year.

• Only about half of kids get at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity during the summer.

• While produce consumption rises during the summer months, many kids still don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables.

• Only 26 percent of kids spend more than an hour each day reading a book for fun during the summer.

• About three-quarters of kids drink sugar-sweetened beverages at least weekly during the summer, and about a quarter of kids average one or more sweetened beverages daily or nearly daily.

• Concerns about preventing learning loss and ensuring their kids eat healthy foods during summer were particularly high among African-American or Hispanic/Latino parents, relative to Caucasian parents (46 percent vs. 33 percent for learning loss, and 47 percent vs. 32 percent for healthy eating).

The survey also revealed that parents prioritize finding enriching activities and ensuring that their kids don’t lose what they’ve learned during the school year over the summer. However, they may need help following through on these intentions to help avoid the “summer slide.”

“Without access to daily lessons, enrichment and exercise, kids are at risk of falling behind during the summer months,” said Elizabeth Grace, director of the Sidney/Shelby County Y Child Development Center. “This summer, we’re helping parents turn their good intentions into reality with programs designed to strengthen their kids’ minds and bodies and keep them on track for good health and academic success year-round.”

The Y and the AAP’s Institute recommend families follow the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards for afterschool, summer and preschool programs, which emphasize the importance of fruits, veggies, water and low- or nonfat beverages, as well as limiting screen time and being physically active.

“We know parents want to do everything they can to prepare their kids for the next school year,” said Dr. Sandra G. Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Our job is to help families recognize they have the power to keep their kids healthy and ready to learn by keeping them focused, encouraging them to eat healthy, exercise and trading their tablets for books.”

Concerned about the health and achievement gaps many children face, particularly during the summer, the Y has launched a national campaign, Hop the Gap, to bring more awareness to the issue and how the Y can help.

Locally, the Sidney-Shelby County Y helps kids hop the gap through summer day camp programs, kinetics programs and youth sports camps. Children don’t have to be YMCA members to participate. Programs are open to all area residents. For information on all the activities going on at the Y this summer, visit www.sidney-ymca.org/program_guide.aspx or call 492-9134.

The YMCA’s Family Health Snapshot was conducted online by Toluna Research between March 9 and 16, 2015. Participants were 1,198 U.S. parents of children 5-12.