Set healthy example by getting in the swim of things this summer

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Summer isn’t officially until June 21, but for pupils just out of school, summer has begun.

How is your child going to spend those lazy days? Are you concerned about his or her safety? Do you want to keep them tucked away at home, inside, so the lure of undesirables and negative role models can’t capture their minds and, ultimately, their lives?

It is not uncommon to hear a parent say they want their children’s lives to be better than their own. I believe many have good intentions when they utter those words. But in too many cases, we are not setting the right examples.

LAST YEAR, A study revealed that Georgia ranks No. 2 in childhood obesity. Yes, many schools have reduced and/or eliminated physical education in their school curricula, and school lunchroom menus are packed with excessive carbohydrates and fat. However, efforts are being made to change these things.

But we can do a better job at home. The parents do the grocery shopping. Have you taken inventory of the food in your refrigerator and cupboards? Do you have more processed foods, canned and packaged goods and sweets than fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables? Have you ever considered shopping in the perimeter of the grocery store vs. the inside aisles? It’s going to take a collective effort to get our kids back on track and healthy, but we should do it by allowing our children to see us working on healthy lifestyles.

Now that school’s out, there are many fun and productive activities we would like to see our children participate in so they stay out of trouble and harm’s way. There are plenty of low- to no-cost, healthy and fun summer activities.

ONE OF THEM is swimming. I remember learning how to swim when I was a little girl. Although I haven’t swam in a very long time, I’m confident that if I got in the water, it would come back to me. All of my siblings know how to swim. I can’t think of any of my cousins who do not know how to swim, either. It was something my parents encouraged us to learn how to do.

Children often mimic what they see their parents do. And even if your parents don’t know how to swim, if they talk about it in a healthy way and encourage it, children will want to know how.

Unfortunately, according to statistics, that is not the norm for African-American children. Every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. Between 2005 and 2009, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African-Americans was significantly higher than that of whites across all ages. The disparity is widest among children ages 5-14. The fatal drowning rate of African-American children ages 5-14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range.

“AFRICAN-AMERICANS say that a lack of access to pools, the expense of swimming lessons and the idea that recreational swimming is a culturally white activity are factors that inhibit them from learning how to swim,” according to a 2012 study commissioned by the national governing body of competitive swimming, USA Swimming

Several cultural and historical factors can help explain why that has been a concern. One is the segregation of swimming pools during the 20th century, according to Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America. Relatively few swimming pools were built to serve black communities back then, so much of a generation was denied the opportunity to swim, Wiltse said.

IF PARENTS can’t swim, their children are far less likely to learn how. The USA Swimming study also found that a fear of drowning and a fear of injury prevent many African-American parents from putting their children in swimming lessons. Avoiding swimming for cosmetic reasons, such as the effect chlorinated water has on their hair, is another concern.

With swimming as a fun exercise, we have the ability to address childhood obesity problems so that can create a win-win situation. U.S. Masters Swimming, a nonprofit consortium of swimming clubs nationwide, suggests that “swimming is a highly effective activity for burning calories and reducing body fat. A 300-pound person will burn about 476 calories in 30 minutes of light to moderate freestyle lap swimming.” Adding a half-hour swim into one’s routine four days a week can help burn about half a pound of fat per week with no changes to one’s diet.

We spend a lot of time trying to keep our children shielded from gangs and bullying – and rightly so – but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the second-leading cause of accidental death for children younger than age 14 is drowning. The awareness of this fact alone should compel parents to change their perspective about swimming and sign their children up in a program this summer.

WE ALSO MAKE too many excuses – “we don’t have the money,” “there isn’t a pool in my neighborhood” and so on. We should be more proactive and make an effort to take care of and save our kids.

There are public pools all over the county, and organizations such as The Family Y and the Kroc Center offer swimming lessons for little to no cost. Financial assistance also is available.

But when you think about it, there should be no cost too high that can ultimately save the life of a child. Visit www.augustafamily.com for a list of summer programs for kids. Visit www.thefamilyy.org and www.krocaugusta.org. Also, www.grhealth.org/safekids has information on child safety tips. Have a safe and fantastic summer!

(The writer is an entrepreneur, author, youth advocate and mental health advocate in Augusta.)

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Darby
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Darby 06/02/13 - 11:31 am
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Swimming lessons are a good solution,

but not always an option. They can be expensive. On the other hand, they are not absolutely necessary.

Get into a pool, public or private with your kids. Do it often and stay with them. Play and help them overcome the fear of water (if they exhibit fear). Stay in the shallow end and just keep playing. (Without the horseplay.)

By the end of summer, they will be swimming. Not like Mark Spitz, but well enough to stay afloat and get from one end of the pool to the other.

Did it with my kids and grandkids. All eventually became excellent swimmers, and without a single lesson.

Like teaching English or math, it takes real dedication, time and close supervision.

But it's worth every minute.

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