Healthy Families

Back to School - in Good Health

Back to School - in Good Health

As summer break comes to a close and the school bell rings again, there is more to think about than shopping for school supplies. All children need yearly physicals and up-to-date vaccines, and that's just the beginning. Our experts from Southern Tier Pediatrics and Fidelis Care share tips on getting the school year off to a healthy start.

Offer your child a variety of healthy foods. Fidelis Care Chief Medical Officer Sanjiv Shah, MD, recommends starting the day with a nutritious breakfast and carefully choosing the foods you put in your child's lunchbox. "Those two meals give children the fuel they need to get through the school day, so every bite should have nutritional value," he says. Try to follow the government's dietary guidelines: Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and lean meats.

Be on the lookout for vision problems. "Visual changes are very gradual, so children rarely complain," says Tina M. Nichols, MD of Southern Tier Pediatrics. "Parents are often shocked at how poorly their children can see, when they finally are evaluated." She advises parents to watch for signs of trouble with vision. They include squinting to read at a distance, chronic headaches, frequent eye rubbing, and a decline in performance in school.

Make sure your child is getting enough exercise. Dr. Nichols says physical education classes and school recess are not enough to keep your child healthy. "Parents need to help their children establish habits of staying active in their home settings," she adds. "Children who only exercise in programs associated with school may be less likely to continue to be active as they get older." Dr. Nichols says one hour of exercise per day is appropriate, and it can be as simple as playing outside.

Set an early bedtime - and stick to it. Children need to come to school ready to learn, and that means being well-rested, says Dr. Shah. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages 3 to 5 need 11 to 13 hours of sleep each night. Children between the ages of 5 and 10 need 10 to 11 hours. For children ages 10 to 17 years old, 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night is typical. Make sure it's quality sleep, by keeping distractions, such as cell phones and video games, out of the bedroom.

Watch for signs of common illness. Once the school year starts, upper respiratory illnesses and strep throat are common. Dr. Nichols says parents should call the pediatrician if their child seems to be having trouble breathing, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, or a persistent or high fever. Children with specific symptoms, including an ear ache or sore throat may also need a medical evaluation.

Enroll your child in a health insurance plan. Almost every child in New York State under age 19 is eligible for health insurance coverage through the New York State-sponsored Child Health Plus program, offered by Fidelis Care. Depending on household income, there may be a modest monthly premium. "As children grow and develop, it is critical they receive regular medical care," says Dr. Shah. "Doctors can spot small health problems before they become large health problems. We owe it to our children to make their health a priority."