During the summer months children are at a higher risk of obesity, according to the American Heart Association.
This is concerning considering obesity rates are already sky-high in young Latino boys (30%) and girls (23%).
But what exactly causes this increased risk for obesity during the summer?
Let’s explore four factors that contribute to weight gain in Latino children during the summer and how we can break this cycle of poor health into the new school year and beyond.
Increased Sedentary Behavior
During the school year, households operate around a steady flow of activities, like school sports, that help keep children active.
During the summer, children may lose access to school-related activities that promote exercise.
That’s why visiting parks, lakes, and hiking trails to let kids play outside in a safe environment is so important.
However, only 1 in 3 Latinos live within walking distance of a park, which limits access to neighborhood events, social gatherings, workout groups, and activities like running and cycling.
In fact, only 16% of Latino youth age 6 to 17 get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
The lack of parks in Latino neighborhoods can contribute to increased sedentary behavior in children, which can ultimately lead to weight gain.
Even if there are parks in Latino neighborhoods, they may not be easily accessible and safe.
Many parks are underutilized due to safety concerns, such as lack of streets, sidewalks, and transient connectivity.
In fact, 17% of children younger than 13 were killed while walking in 2019. In 2020, this number jumped to 26%, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
These statistics provide perspective on how critical it is for communities to advocate for safer streets, walkways, and bike paths so children can commute to and from parks, fields, and sports complexes safely.
In summer 2023, some of Texas’ hottest temperatures climbed to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
These hot temperatures prevent many people from utilizing parks during much of the day, especially if parks have limited shade.
Unfortunately, excessive heat is becoming more common because of climate change.
As a result, more people are turning to swimming pools for summertime exercise.
But black and brown communities often lack the infrastructure and funding for swimming pools.
Rivers, lakes, and the ocean may also be off limits for exercise as many children in black and brown communities don’t know how to swim or tread water. Further, many of their parents are not strong swimmers either.
Overall, the excessive heat can make staying active during the summer a challenge for Latino kids.
Increased Consumption of High-Calorie Food and Drinks
Eating habits tend to change for children during the summer months, which can contribute to weight gain, according to a 2019 study.
For example, Latino children may lose access to school lunches during the summer, which may be their only source of a nutritious meal, especially if they are low income and live in a food desert.
In fact, nearly half (44.7%) of Latino households are food insecure, meaning they struggle to afford nutritious, well-balanced meals.
Because of these barriers to nutritious food, Latinos are more likely to over consume unhealthy food and sugary drinks, which may be a faster and cheaper option to cure hunger.
For instance, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is one of the biggest contributors to childhood obesity among Latino children and young adults. Data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that approximately 7% of the total daily calories of Latino children come from sugar-sweetened beverages.
These unhealthy eating patterns can put Latino children at greater risk for summer weight gain.
How Can We Help Latino Kids Maintain a Healthy Weight During Summer?
The eating and exercise patterns established in the summer tend to carry over into the school year. If they continue through childhood, they can cause lasting effects into adulthood.
No child deserves to grow up and face chronic, weight-related diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, which encompass 4 of the 5 leading causes of death for Latino adults.
That’s why it’s important to make healthy changes now.
First, it’s important that Latino parents set the example for their children.
In Latino culture, parents and grandparents are critical in establishing and sustaining healthy habits. If they practice healthy habits with their children from a young age, these habits can become permanent and establish a healthier way of living into adulthood.
This means that parents and grandparents must plan healthy meals ahead of time and work together to ensure children get the nutrition and exercise they need – no matter the time of year. Here are five more tips for keeping kids safe and healthy during the summer.
We can also help Latino kids maintain a healthy weight by advocating for systemic change at the local level.
For instance, cities and school districts can partner to allow parents and children access to school playgrounds or track and fields after normal school hours and during the summer, like in the city of Atlanta.
This low-cost solution is a great way to boost access to parks for black and brown communities and provide children a safe place to play and exercise.
At the policy level, we can advocate for free school meals year-round in disadvantaged communities. These nutritious meals could feed millions of low-income children and help prevent diet-related diseases later in life.
Advocate for Healthy Food/Drinks in Your Area
Looking for another way to support Latino health?
Salud America! created an Action Pack to help school leaders push for water bottle fountains. This refillable water station can boost access to water for Latino and all kids, which is a healthier option than flavored milk or other sugary drinks that may be offered in schools.
You can also download a Salud America! Health Equity Report Card!
The report card shows how many children live in food deserts, have low food access, and get SNAP food benefits. Compare your county to the rest of your state and the nation.
Email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders and share it on social media. Then use it to make the case to address food insecurity where help is needed most!
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