Experts offer health tips as kids head back to school

Aug 18 2013 - 11:12pm

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Utah kids will be returning to the classroom this week, and that means getting new clothes, school supplies and a new sleep routine. But health experts also want to remind parents not to skip getting their health checked out.

"Once you do the pre-K checkup, I recommend that children get a full checkup at ages 8 and 11," said Dr. Mindy Boehm, a pediatrician at Ogden Clinic. "During those checkups we will do a full physical, discuss lifestyle, check for signs of puberty and examine a child's skin. These checkups are important, because your pediatrician will be able to assess your child's growth and development, as well as provide him or her with recommended vaccines."

A checkup is also a great time to discuss healthy lifestyles, Boehm said.

"With the obesity crisis in America, age 8 is a great time to teach kids how to eat properly, get involved in sports and other healthy lifestyle behaviors," she said. "Once a child hits 11, he or she may not have as much interest in sports and other activities, so it is important to get them involved early to spark that interest throughout life."

Boehm said it's important for kids to eat breakfast, which will help them to stay focused on their schoolwork and keep them productive in the classroom. A breakfast consisting of whole grains, fruit and low-fat milk is best.

"Make sure breakfast doesn't contain 'sugar shockers.' Parents should avoid feeding their children sugared cereals, and kids should have no more than four ounces of juice per day," she said. "Also, parents should make sure their kids have a healthy lunch, whether they pack it or purchase it at school. Kids learn better when they receive the proper nutrition and fuel."

Reminding children to wash their hands is also important to limit their sick days.

"Teaching children proper handwashing and hygiene skills is a must. It is also a good idea to change their clothing after school to minimize the spread of germs they may have picked up in the classroom," Boehm said. "Hand sanitizer can also make a big difference. Teach children how to use it properly, and you may be able to minimize illnesses."

Boehm said if your child is running a fever of 100 degrees or higher, has a bad cough and constant runny nose, keep them home.

And teach them not to share clothing and personal items, or they may risk contracting lice, said Dr. John Allred, a pediatrician at Ogden Clinic.

"Children are affected by lice more commonly than adults. With the exception of the common cold, head lice affects a greater number of elementary school students in North America than all other communicable diseases combined," Allred said.

Lice do not jump or fly. They are spread by person-to-person contact by sharing clothing and personal items, Allred said. For example, you can get head lice by using the comb or wearing the hat or hoodie of someone who has lice.

"Lice can also lay eggs called nits, which can hatch into new lice," he said.

Allred said most people with lice experience itching where the lice are on the body. Some may discover it when they see small white nits or live lice in their hair.

"Some children can harbor a surprisingly large colony of head lice with no apparent symptoms," he said.

Detecting lice is done by combing wet or dry hair with a fine-toothed nit comb. Nits are usually cemented securely to the hair shaft and are difficult to dislodge.

Nationwide, many school districts forbid children from coming to school until the nits are treated.

"Shadow Valley Elementary has a policy which I endorse," Allred said. "When lice are discovered, parents are notified immediately, and the child is sent home. A letter about lice accompanies the patient."

Parents are also given instructions on how to appropriately care for their child and avoid further infestation at home.

Emotional health is also a major health concern that affects a child throughout their life, Boehm said.

"I see a number of children with ADD, ADHD and learning disabilities, and it is best for the child when these issues are addressed at the beginning of the school year, so the child can start off on the right foot," she said.

Some signs your child may need to see a specialist include irritability and sadness. If your child is suddenly withdrawn, if they cut back on their activities and don't interact with other kids and family members, you should work with the school and your doctor to ensure a proper diagnosis.

"Parents should get involved with their child's education and regularly talk with teachers to identify any potential problems. The sooner you identify whether or not your child is struggling, the better," Boehm said.

And don't forget a restful night's sleep. Doctors recommend 10 hours of sleep for ages 6 to 9 and nine hours for pre-teens.

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