By: Mark Kishel, M.D.
Back-to-school is a busy and exciting time of year no matter what age your children are.
In addition to making sure your students have school supplies, new clothes and increasingly, some type of “smart device,” back-to-school provides a great opportunity to think about a good health checklist. I encourage families to make sure their children start the new school year healthy and ready to learn. Here are some simple steps to help:
Check-up. Back-to-school is a logical time for children to have an annual check-up. Doctors can make sure your child is maintaining a healthy weight and alert you to any potential problems. Children playing school sports may also need a signed release from their pediatrician.
Immunizations. Don’t be surprised if your child needs a shot or two. Most elementary schools require students to be current on childhood vaccinations. Newer requirements also call for vaccinations or booster shots before middle or high school.
Physical activity. Kids should strive for at least one hour a day of physical activity; recess and PE count toward that total. Limiting TV and video games not only makes time for homework, but for active play too. Children that get at least one hour a day of exercise have less stress and an easier time maintaining a healthy weight.
Eye exam. Poor vision can cause headaches and may also cause otherwise good students to fall behind because they can’t see the board. An optometrist can fit your child with glasses if needed and recommend an appropriate age for children to begin using contact lenses.
Sleep. School-aged children, including teens, need at least nine hours of sleep a night, but many don’t get that much. On school nights, it’s important to have consistent and enforced times for video games to be tuned off so kids can ‘wind down’ before going to bed.
Nutrition. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Georgia ranks in the top 20 states in childhood obesity, with 35 percent of Georgia kids overweight and 16.5 percent considered obese. Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity are major reasons. Be sure to include fruits and vegetables in your children’s lunch and have them available for after-school snacks. Even more important: eliminate soda. Each 12-ounce can of soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and greatly increases a child's risk of obesity.
Safety. Go over basic safety rules with your kids before starting school. They should know to wear a seatbelt in a car or on the school bus (if their bus is equipped with them), to wear a helmet if biking to school, and follow rules for crossing the street if walking. Children also should have a list of family and emergency phone numbers to keep in their backpacks.
We all want our kids to be safe and healthy, and the back-to-school season is a great opportunity for families to focus on these priorities. In addition to an annual check-up and immunizations, good nutrition and physical fitness are critical to good health all year and throughout life. Get together with your kids and see what other ideas you can come up with to increase healthy eating and physical activity as a family – and how you can work those ideas into the back-to-school routine.
Dr. Kishel is Medical Director for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia