Five ways to prepare for summer fun
June 21, 2023
Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK — Summer heat is kicking in, filling Arkansas boat ramps, swim beaches and campsites with families enjoying all The Natural State has to offer. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wants to remind everyone to keep things safe and healthy for the kiddos, so everyone comes back from their trips excited for the next one.
Here are five ways to keep kids healthy and engaged with the outdoors this summer.
Bring the Sunscreen
Not only are sunburns painful, they can cause permanent damage to the skin. Many outdoors enthusiasts who have spent a lifetime in the summer sun in nothing but swimsuits or tank tops find themselves fighting a variety of skin issues as they get older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, repeated sunburns can lead to premature wrinkling, age spots and an increased risk of skin cancer. Start the kids off with a healthy habit of taking care of their skin; it’s going to be with them for a long time.
A sunscreen’s rating doesn’t stand for the number of minutes it’s good for; instead it indicates the amount of UV radiation the liquid shields the skin from. An SPF of 30 allows 1/30th of the sun’s radiation through, meaning it would take 30 times longer to receive the same effects as unprotected skin, but that’s only if it stayed on. Even water-resistant sunscreens will only last for a couple of hours before they begin to deteriorate from moisture, be it lakewater or perspiration, so be sure to reapply throughout the day.
Throw Some Shade
We all want to set good examples for our kids, but in this case, throwing a little shade their way can keep them healthy and happy during a day at the swim beach or on the boat. If you’re planning on setting up shop all day, remember that most swim beaches and lakes offer very little shadows, so bring your own.
Many manufacturers make lightweight canopies that can be placed over your chair to deflect some of the sun’s rays during summer. Not only does this help fight sunburn, it can also keep things a little cooler when you’re exposed to the elements all day long.
Bucket hats and an extra pair of loose-fitting lightweight clothes also can shield youngsters from overexposure. If possible, use clothing designed for summer sun instead of a plain cotton shirt. These fabrics will be labeled with UV protection ratings, much like sunscreen.
With colas and fruit juices so commonly available, it can be a challenge to get the kids to drink plain old water, but that’s exactly what their bodies need. The Institute of Medicine (the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences) recommends children ages 4 to 8 should drink at least 2 quarts of water per day, with that amount rising as the child gets older. That’s on an average day. During summer, when kids are playing or working outdoors, that amount can rise quickly. Regular breaks from playtime for water and rest will prevent dehydration as well as exhaustion.
Bring plenty of water with you on trips to the lake, camping or day hikes. Avoid sodas and other drinks that contain caffeine, which actually can serve to dehydrate you further.
If you have to get creative to get some fluids in your kids while out and about, popsicles made from sports drinks and flavored water might get some attention, as can slices of watermelon. But keep clean water available throughout the day as an alternative to those sweeter treats.
Picnics, campouts and evenings by a campfire all evoke feelings children will treasure the rest of their lives. Make sure those memories are full of the fun you shared instead of anecdotes about picking off ticks or being chased into the tent by Arkansas’s industrial-strength mosquitoes. Worse yet, these critters can carry a couple of diseases such as West Nile and Zika Virus in mosquitoes and lifelong maladies such as Lyme Disease and Alpha-Gal in ticks. Again, only a few simple precautions are needed to keep these notable nuisances at bay.
A good bug repellent containing the chemical DEET is highly recommended. Another chemical called permethrin can be applied to clothes to help the fight against the insect world. For people who prefer more natural-sounding insect control, repellents with oil of lemon eucalyptus work reasonably well. However, these repellents should be used only as needed and according to their labels. The Arkansas Department of Health warns that repellents with DEET should not be applied to children younger than 2 months old, and oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children younger than 3 years old.
Keep Watersports Clean
Just about every kid who grew up in rural Arkansas has spent time swimming in a lake or creek. Swim beaches around the state will be filled with visitors, and paddlers will be out along the Spring River as well as other famous float streams throughout the Ozarks and Ouachitas. Be sure to keep the water, and any bacteria that might be in it, out of your body.
Recreational water illnesses, such as E. coli, usually are the result of high organic loads or contaminants in water that enters the body by being ingested or taken in through cuts or vulnerable areas while swimming. Never swallow water while swimming in natural sources and avoid swimming in algae or in water that looks discolored.
The Arkansas Department of Health warns that children and pets are at the greatest risk from swimming or drinking water when algae are present. You should never drink water when algae is present, even if you have filtered it first. Personal filter equipment and treatment options do not eliminate the risk, and you should not use the water to cook, either. The ADH keeps a list of swim beach closures on its website www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/arkansas-swim-beach-program.
These are just a few ways to keep kids healthy this summer. For more information about other healthy practices, such as keeping vaccinations current and living an active lifestyle, visit www.healthy.arkansas.gov
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