Every day you see another headline about the obesity epidemic in kids. One of the latest studies shows that obese children face not only long-term risks, but also more immediate ones. They’re more likely to have problems such as asthma, learning disabilities, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD).1
Yet kids (and adults) are surrounded—on television, on billboards, and online —by messages beckoning them to eat sugary, high-fat, often empty-calorie foods. It can feel like an uphill battle to get kids to make healthier choices—especially as they’re heading back to school, and out of earshot. Sure, you aren’t going to win all the battles. But you can have a huge impact. Here are a few important reminders:
1. Control the flow. What are you bringing into the house (and what kinds of habits are you modeling)? Remember, you have some control over this until your kid is old enough to shop solo. For now, you have veto power. If you keep the junk out, it can’t go in.2
2. Look at labels. Of course, stocking up on healthy foods means you also need to check labels.2 You might be surprised at what you find. That tub of nonfat flavored yogurt you think is so healthy might be chockfull of sugar—containing even more than the kids’ cereal you long ago shunned.
3. Go for staying power. Go for whole-grain breads, tortillas, pretzels, or cereals. Mix almond butter and celery, apples, or bananas. Try something new once in a while to broaden your kid’s tastes. Maybe roasted soy nuts will be a hit. Or, sweet red peppers dipped in hummus. You’ll never know unless you give it a try.2
4. Make it easy. Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter or string cheese or bags of low-sugar, whole-grain cereal within reach. Just don’t make eating too easy. In other words, restrict it to the kitchen or dining area. That can go a long way toward limiting mindless snacking in front of the TV or computer screen.2
5. Watch the sugar. Oh, yes, I know. That’s a tough one. Maybe even your sweet tooth gets its way more often than not. But sugar may do more than add extra pounds or cause tooth decay. New evidence links large amounts of sugar—separate from other factors—to the diabetes epidemic.3
If you do nothing else, nix the sweetened drinks. That includes sodas as well as fruit, energy, and sports drinks. Children who drink them not only consume more calories. They are also more likely to eat unhealthy foods.4 Keep milk and water on hand, instead of fruit juice and sweetened drinks or flavored milk or drinkable yogurt.3
Along with these five healthy habits, don’t forget an insurance policy for your kids: vitamins. When you come into the store, I can advise you about this.
1. HealthDay: “Obese Kids May Face Immediate Health Woes, Study Finds.” Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/
2. Mayo Clinic: “Healthy snacks for kids: 10 child-friendly tips.” Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/
3. Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH (2013) The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57873. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.
4. HealthDay: “Sweet Drinks Tied to Higher Calorie Consumption in Kids.” Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/
5. FamilyDoctor.org: “Kids: Passing on Health Habits to Your Children.” Available at: http://familydoctor.org/
Kids should learn to share, right? But, gee whiz…. When it comes to bugs and other contagious health problems in school, does your kid have to get everything that’s passed around?
Packed into a classroom and messing around on a playground or locker room, kids do tend to share lots of health problems in school. What can you do about it? And when should you be concerned? Here are a few things to think about.
Does head lice top your list of concerns? Although these creepy insects might disgust you, it may help to know that they don’t cause diseases or other health problems – other than maybe a red, rash-like reaction. Of course, that doesn’t mean you want to ignore them since they spread really easily. Follow up with the doctor if your child complains of an itchy scalp or you catch sight of tiny white eggs firmly attached at hair roots. These are often confused with dandruff. Your child’s doctor may prescribe a treatment and other over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos or rinses. Follow directions closely and be sure to ask me if you have any questions.1
Viral infections such as chicken pox are common, too. Many are contagious before skin lesions appear. But be sure to keep your child home until the sixth day after the rash appears unless all lesions are dry and crusted over. To prevent this infection, have your child vaccinated.1
Fifth disease is another viral disease. It causes a lacy rash on arms and redness on cheeks that looks like the result of a well-placed slap. Unless your child feels too sick, there’s no need to stay home. That’s because the disease only spreads before symptoms appear. However, tell the school so female employees of childbearing age can be notified. Fifth disease can severely hurt a developing fetus.1
Although there are many kinds of hepatitis, hepatitis A is the most common type in children. This virus is in blood and bowel movements, so hand washing is really important to prevent its spread. A child with hepatitis A should stay home until a week after the onset of illness and until any jaundice (yellowed skin) disappears. Another disease spread through bodily fluids is HIV/AIDS. Although it can cause anxiety among parents, remember that casual physical contact – such as hugging, holding hands, or sharing a glass – does not transfer this virus.1
Then, there’s the run-of-the mill colds and flu. Deciding whether or not to send your child to school can be a challenge. General rule of thumb? If there’s a fever, keep ’em home – until the fever’s been gone for at least 24 hours.2 If there’s no fever, more than likely it’s a cold and it’s okay to go to school. When in doubt, check with your child’s doctor. And, don’t forget the flu vaccine, which is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.3
Stop by, and I can advise you on the best way to keep your child comfortable while the cold or flu runs its course. I can also give you a brief overview of prescription or OTC treatments for the more common childhood viral infections.
The first day of school. . . ah, yes. The smell of new shoes and freshly sharpened pencils. It’s an exciting time. But have you done all you can to prepare your child? Be sure to add this health checklist to your back-to-school to-do list.
Get to the point. Ask your child’s pediatrician which shots your child needs before starting school. Or go to the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (www.aap.org) to find an up-to-date list of the vaccinations recommended at different ages. Know that legal requirements vary from state to state.
Back off. Ever seen kids saddled with backpacks so full that they look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame? Not funny. Heavy backpacks can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain – and possibly longer-term problems. Make sure your child’s backpack doesn’t weigh more than 20 percent of his or her body weight. To ease your child’s load, look for lightweight or rolling backpacks with wide, padded shoulder straps, padded backs, and waist straps for added support.
Learn to share (information). Make sure to provide the school with an up-to-date list of contacts. List people in the order they should be called, such as mother, father, aunt, and friend. Include your child’s doctor and dentist, too.
Give a list of any medications your child takes to the school nurse or secretary. Supply medication your child needs at school in a clearly marked pharmacy bottle. Provide instructions on how to take it and what to do in an emergency.
Does your child have asthma? Share your child’s asthma action plan with your child’s teachers and coaches as well as the school nurse and front office administrators. This action plan includes details about symptoms, medications, any limitations on activities, and what to do if prescribed medication doesn’t work.
If you suspect your child might have a learning disability, discuss this with your child’s teacher as soon as possible. Testing can confirm this and identify any steps you and the school can take to help your child succeed in school.
Listen up and watch out. Have you noticed your child pressing a book close to her face or turning up the volume when watching television? But if you suspect a problem, talk with your pediatrician right away. Luckily, some states also include hearing and vision testing as part of preschool and elementary school screening. Without a test, though, you can’t always tell your child is having trouble. Some children even try to fake out their parents! As you know, hearing or vision loss can lead to big challenges learning in school, so uncovering these problems is important. If your child needs glasses and plays sports, go for polycarbonate sports frames and lenses.
Fuel ‘em up. Food and rest are essential for a productive day at school. Help your child make the transition to school by gradually easing into an earlier bedtime. Then make sure your child is getting at least eight to 10 hours of sleep a day. Make breakfast a habit – kids who eat breakfast stay more alert in class.
Help your child take a “chill pill.” Do you have a child who is anxious in new situations? Who dreads the first day of school? You can help. Have your child meet the teacher and visit the classroom before school starts. Talk through what to expect. And have everything ready to go the night before school starts. Rushing around on the first day of school is a recipe for disaster.
Have questions? Need supplies? Just stop by our store for help.