Are your kids ready to go back to school? I’m not talking about school supplies or whether or not they’ve finished their summer reading. While these things are important, I think it’s equally important to consider health guidelines to follow during the upcoming school year.
Here are some of the back-to-school concerns I think are the most important to address to ensure your children have a happy, healthy year:
Making sure your child is up-to-date on all his or her vaccinations is essential for back-to-school health. In order to even enter kindergarten, there are a number of required vaccinations children must receive, though they vary from state to state. Check with your school system for specific requirements. Additionally, in New York, children must receive the booster for whooping cough in order to enter middle school.
Other vaccines, such as Hepatitis A or chicken pox boosters, are recommended, though not required. Also, it’s important not to forget to get an influenza shot ahead of the upcoming flu season this year. Kids are busy enough without having to worry about getting flu!
With obesity rates rising among children, it’s important to instill proper eating habits at young ages. Three meals a day is still the rule of thumb, according to nutritionists. Kids shouldn’t skip breakfast in favor of more sleep, as this can lead to weight gain, and parents should encourage them to stay away from the fatty, fried foods too many schools offer at lunch.
Also, during the warmer months, it’s important to make sure kids are drinking enough water to avoid dehydration. This holds especially true for athletes, who have to exert extra energy while they practice out in the hot, afternoon sun.
Exercise goes hand-in-hand with nutrition. I know we’re all tied to our laptops and iPods or what have you (and I think my kids’ cell phones might actually need to be surgically removed from their hands) but it’s important to set technology aside for an hour or so a day to fit in exercise.
Studies have shown that sedentary lifestyles lead to a number of health problems, and I’m not just talking about weight gain. More and more kids are now being diagnosed with typically “adult” diseases, such as type II diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.
Simply traveling back and forth to school comes with its own health concerns as well. You hear your kids complaining about how heavy their backpacks are – and they’re not lying! While carting heavy textbooks around is often necessary, try to make sure the weight on your child’s back is no more than 10 to 20 percent of his or her body weight. Also, minimize the strain by choosing a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back.
Once that’s settled, make sure your children also know travel safety rules before sending them on their way. All children should wear seatbelts in any vehicle, whether it be a car or a school bus. If students walk or ride their bike, remind them of basic road rules, such as looking both ways before they cross the street and respecting traffic lights. Bike riders should always wear helmets.
Sleep is one of the most important factors that influence health. Students have a lot going on during the school year, from clubs to sports to music lessons or other extracurricular activities – and that’s not even factoring in nightly homework assignments.
Don’t let your child get too overbooked this year. Inadequate rest can increase susceptibility to illness, as well as cause weight gain and lower concentration in class, among other health problems. Eight hours of sleep a night should be the absolute minimum, especially for younger children.
Finally, try not to stress too much. I know school comes with certain pressures and expectations, but one of the most important things kids can do to keep themselves healthy both physically and mentally is to cut out the anxiety and take the time to have fun. Have a good school year, everyone!
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.