Summer Programs Provide More Than Learning

Though the temperature outside continues to drop rapidly (30 degrees–really Austin?!), the Target Graduation team at United Way for Greater Austin has summer on the mind. Our Navigation Center is starting to receive an influx of calls related to open enrollment for affordable health insurance, and the Target Graduation team is attending the National Summer Learning Association’s conference in San Antonio this week. Therefore, we’ve been reflecting on how our community’s needs change year-round and what we can anticipate when summer brings different challenges.

Afterschool Alliance recently released a national report on out-of-school time programs. It highlights how participation in a structured summer program keeps kids physically active while also providing a measure of food security that is sorely missed when school breakfasts and lunches disappear.

Food access continues to be a key concern in the Greater Austin area. Fortunately, more out-of-school programs are beginning to take this into account. Three out of four parents agree that out-of-school programs should provide nutritious snacks and meals for their children.

One out of three AISD students have BMIs that put them at risk for health issues.

Students gain weight 3X faster during the summer break.

Conversely, when students lose access to school meals, they also lose the regulated diet and exercise schedule of a school day’s structure. Paul Von Hippel, a statistician from Ohio State, identifies this as a major factor in rapid weight gain occuring among youth during the summer break. His report found that students gain weight three times faster during the summer months, a trend that is exacerbated among low-income children who are already at higher risk of poor health. In our own community, about one-third of AISD students have BMIs that put them at risk for health issues.

Von Hippel hopes to flip the dialogue about the child obesity crisis by steering the conversation away from school lunch debates and focusing instead on the bigger picture of youth exercise and diet habits outside of school:

“For years, the public debate over childhood obesity has focused on what schools are doing wrong, and how we can fix them. This study shifts the focus to what schools are doing right, and what we can learn from schools to improve kids’ lives.”

As food security and healthcare continue to top the list of our community’s needs, out-of-school time programs play an important role in supporting youth not only academically, but also by helping them adopt healthy habits year-round.

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