Keeping kids healthy over the summer slump: As easy as 5-2-1""

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It’s about halfway through summer break, which means that most children across Rhode Island have settled into a summer routine. The days are full of sun, fun and delicious treats, but that doesn’t mean that a healthy lifestyle should be taking a back seat.

In 2016, The Obesity Institute found that from kindergarten through second grade, obesity among U.S. children increases during summer vacation. Why does this happen? A significant reason is that school provides structure for kids: during the fall, winter and spring, there is a clear schedule detailing when to wake up, when to work and when to play. This schedule also sets aside specific times for children to eat and snack.

During the summer, children are at home more often and can raid the fridge more easily. They are also getting less sleep and more screen time since they are no longer spending a significant portion of the day inside a classroom.

Talking about exercise and nutrition isn’t always easy with kids. One effective conversation starter is “5-2-1 Almost None,” a simple way for your family to remember healthy habits that can help maintain a healthy weight this summer.

5-2-1 Almost None stands for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 hours of screen time, 1 hour of physical activity and almost no sugary drinks. Here’s how to use 5-2-1 Almost None to keep kids on track during their summer break:

5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day

It’s a timeless piece of advice: Ensure that your child is eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy green vegetables. These sources of food are high in nutrients and will give your child the energy they need when they’re enjoying the outdoors. Keep cut fruit available when your child is looking for a quick snack. 

Maximum 2 hours of screen time

CDC studies show that children ages 8 to 10 spend about six hours per day in front of a screen, four of which are spent watching television. The CDC recommends a limit of one or two hours of screen time per day. Encourage your child to pursue other types of fun involving physical activity such as a sports team or club.

 At least 1 hour of physical activity

The CDC also recommends that children and adolescents perform 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. We wait all year for the summer weather, so we should encourage our kids to go outside – wearing sunscreen! - and enjoy it.

Exercise is a great activity to do together as a family. The best way to encourage your kids to live a healthy life is to lead by example. Start out easy and see how much more active everyone becomes as the summer goes on! It can be as simple as walking the dog, going to the park and shooting hoops, or taking a bike ride to your local swimming pool or beach.

Almost none: sugary drinks

Too many sugary drinks can lead to more serious health problems such as dental cavities and unwanted weight gain. Water and low-fat milk are excellent substitutes for sugary energy drinks and soda. Make sure that water is readily available in the refrigerator, as well as easy to grab on the go. If your child is heading outside for a day of play, ensure that they are well hydrated throughout the day.

It’s always helpful to check the nutrition facts on any juice drinks. Be sure that your child is drinking 100 percent juice with no added sugar, but not too much! New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no fruit juice for children younger than age 1, four to six ounces for children between 4 and 6 years old, and no more than one cup per day for children between 7 and 18 years old.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island is committed to addressing wellness issues such as child obesity. 5-2-1 Almost None is an important step in helping children get and stay healthy for the rest of their lives. Better yet, you can follow the 5-2-1 Almost None rules during the school year to ensure that your family maintains a healthy lifestyle all year long.

Matt Collins, M.D. is vice president of clinical integration at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

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