FEATURE — Now that most kids are back in school and many households are returning to a level of normalcy, it’s a good time to take a deep breath and start thinking about how to create a successful, healthy rest of the school year.
Between picking up school supplies, connecting with teachers and figuring out new routines, many parents forget to prepare for the health risks accompanying the back-to-school season.
Dr. Scott Barton with Revere Health St. George Clinic shares three tips to keep in mind when helping your kids stay healthy throughout the school year.
Follow the “5-2-1-0 rule” to prevent childhood obesity
The percentage of childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled since the 1970s. Teaching your children healthy habits while they are young can help them stay healthy as they grow into adulthood. To help your children maintain a healthy weight, Barton recommends following the 5-2-1-0 rule.
- Five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. It’s not always easy to get kids to eat their fruits and veggies, but many parents have success mixing fruits and vegetables with foods their kids already enjoy like pizza, pasta, soup, cereal or yogurt.
- Two hours or less of daily screen time. Too much TV has been linked to lower reading scores and difficulty paying attention. As children get older, excessive screen time can also reduce their availability to be social and physically active, which can lead to obesity, low self-esteem and other health problems.
- One hour or more of physical activity each day. Regular physical activity not only helps children stay healthy but it also is linked to fewer behavioral problems, better grades and longer attention spans.
- Zero sugary drinks. As children learn to recognize that they are thirsty, make sure water or low-fat milk is always available to help them develop healthy drinking habits at an early age. Sugary drinks like soda pop and juice add to the risk of childhood obesity and have minimal health benefits.
Don’t skip the checkups
Preventive care checks ensure that your child is healthy and developing properly. They are also a great opportunity to make sure your child has all the necessary vaccinations. While most parents think of scheduling their child’s physical exams before kindergarten and seventh grade, it’s important to schedule one annually.
“Consistently having a preventive yearly visit allows us to follow growth more accurately and give advice on a more timely basis,” said Barton. “Some conditions like childhood obesity or pre-diabetes need more consistent guidance than just the kindergarten or seventh grade exams.”
Barton also added that for teenagers, these exams provide an opportunity to discuss such things as:
- Avoiding exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.
- Addictive substances and depression.
- Possible immunization against human papillomavirus, or HPV.
“On occasion, during a preventive physical exam, we find health concerns such as cardiac anomalies that would be detrimental for the long term health of a child if not found and treated,” said Barton. “These exams are critical because they allow us to counsel children about general good health habits as well as ensure healthy development, normal puberty changes and protection from preventable disease.”
Know when to keep your kids home
A sick child is most contagious during the first three to five days of an illness, and it’s good practice to keep them home during this time to prevent spreading disease to other children. If your child has a fever, Barton recommends keeping your children home and remembering the thermostat analogy.
“If your thermostat is cranked up to 90 degrees, you might open the window to let out the heat, but you won’t really solve the problem unless you turn down your thermostat,” said Barton. “The same idea applies to treating a fever. A lukewarm bath is like opening a window—it may calm the fever temporarily, but it doesn’t alleviate the fever entirely.”
Barton suggests alternating between Tylenol and ibuprofen for children six months and older to help reduce a fever. If your child is less than six months old, give them Tylenol only.
“Fevers are friend and foe,” said Barton. “They help us fight infection, but they can make a child feel rotten.”
If your child has a fever over 103 degrees, is lethargic after reducing a fever or if the fever lasts longer than four to five days, it’s time to see your doctor.
Establishing healthy habits at a young age promotes better health in adulthood. Help your children recognize what is healthy, and never hesitate to ask your doctor for advice.
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