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Make children’s health an important part of your back-to-school planning

Parents must ensure students get vaccines, exams, plenty of sleep

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POSTED: July 27, 2014 6:00 p.m.
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Maintaining good health helps students succeed in academics. In addition to spending plenty of time studying, children need to be seen regularly by physicians, get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, exercise daily and take safety precautions, such as wearing seat belts in the car and helmets while biking.

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The end of summer vacation, when families begin preparing for their children to go back to school, often is a busy and exciting time of year.
In addition to making sure students have school supplies, new clothes and increasingly, some type of smart technology, this time of year provides a great opportunity to think about a good health checklist.
Families are encouraged to make sure their children start the new school year healthy and ready to learn. Here are some simple steps to help:
• Checkup — This is a logical time for children to have an annual check-up. Doctors can make sure children are maintaining healthy weights and alert parents to any potential problems. Children playing school sports also may need signed releases from their pediatricians.
• Immunizations — Don’t be surprised if children need a shot or two. Most elementary schools require students to be current on childhood vaccinations. Newer requirements also call for vaccinations or booster shots before middle or high school.
• Physical activity — Kids should strive for at least one hour a day of physical activity; recess and physical-education class count toward that total. Limiting TV and video games not only makes time for homework, but it also makes more time for active play. Children that get at least one hour a day of exercise have less stress and an easier time maintaining a healthy weight.
• Eye exam — Poor vision can cause headaches and also may cause otherwise good students to fall behind because they can’t see the board. Optometrists can fit children with glasses if needed and recommend an appropriate age for children to begin using contact lenses.  
• Sleep — School-aged children, including teens, need at least nine hours of sleep a night, but many don’t get that much. On school nights, it’s important to have consistent and enforced times for video games to be tuned off so kids can wind down before going to bed.
• Nutrition — According to the Centers for Disease Control, Georgia ranks in the top 20 states in childhood obesity, with 35 percent of Georgia kids overweight and 16.5 percent considered obese. Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity are major reasons. Be sure to include fruits and vegetables in children’s lunches and have them available for after-school snacks. Even more important is to eliminate soda. Each 12-ounce can of soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and greatly increases a child's risk of obesity.
• Safety — Go over basic safety rules before starting school. Kids should know to wear a seat belt in a car or on the school bus if their bus is equipped with them, wear a helmet if biking to school and follow rules for crossing the street if walking. Children also should have a list of family and emergency phone numbers to keep in their backpacks.
We all want our kids to be safe and healthy, and the back-to-school season is a great opportunity for families to focus on these priorities.
In addition to an annual checkup and immunizations, good nutrition and physical fitness are critical to good health all year and throughout life.
Parents should get together with their kids to see what other ideas they can come up with to increase healthy eating and physical activity as a family — and how they can work those ideas into the back-to-school routine.

Kishel is the medical director for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia.

 

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