Summertime Concerns of Pediatricians
by Maggie Wayne, Docs for Tots Health Liaison
Since 2018, Docs for Tots has been facilitating an ACEs learning collaborative with diverse medical practices across Long Island. We make sure the providers we work with have referral options for resources their patients need to help foster resilience. In a recent conversation with Dr. Cathie Gross, a pediatrician at the Long Island Federally Qualified Health Center practice in Freeport, she reported concern for her patients during the summer months. Her patients are gaining weight due to decreased physical activity and reduced access to healthy foods. This is a shift from five years ago when her patients would lose weight in summer and gain a little in the winter. With this in mind, she and I began discussing what is available for her patients, the barriers that exist when accessing them, and the fears many of her patients’ families have during the summer.
Often, people are able to recall a fun summer memory – summer camp, family vacation, time spent with neighborhood friends. Unfortunately, not everyone can make those memories. Many patients and their families report that they do not leave their homes during the summer. Parents continue to work long hours and summer camp is not an option for many families due to the high cost. Children are instructed to stay inside due to neighborhood safety concerns. This causes children to be more likely to play video games inside than run around outside with their friends. Children and teens remain connected to their friends by communicating entirely by text or social media, so they are not motivated to try and play outside. Free and low-cost activities are sometimes available at their local libraries or public parks but are rarely utilized.
Many of Dr. Gross’ patients rely on the free and reduced-price lunch programs that are available during the school year. There is not a similar program during the summer, though some excellent options and resources are available through community-based organizations like Island Harvest and Long Island Cares. Families can even use a text service that sends them all the free, meals provided near their zip code.
Long Island has many resources available through libraries, the county, and community-based organizations. However, most require the families to come to them, which still raises a safety concern for parents. When asked what she would like to see for her patients, Dr. Gross expressed a desire for full-day, affordable, and enriching summer programs and easier access to low-cost healthy food just like her patients have during the school year.
Less physical activity and inadequate nutrition can lead to real problems for children and teens. Research has shown that proper nutrition promotes healthy brain development, and the benefits of regular physical activity include better school performance, healthy weight, and less of a chance of developing chronic diseases. Access to physical activity and healthy food are also contributing factors to building resilience and combating ACEs. My discussion with Dr. Gross helped me look at how children’s needs in the summer are very different than during the school year. One thing remains the same: children deserve to be children so they can live and thrive in their home communities and achieve optimal health and development.
Maggie Wayne is a Health Liaison with Docs for Tots, working with our partners on incorporating into pediatric practices screenings for Maternal Depression and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).