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Parents' checklist: Prepare your family's health for back-to-school season

As summer comes to an end, there’s a new season to gear up for. “Gear” being the operative word, as you look over the list of school supplies needing to be purchased: lunchboxes, backpacks, binders and more. You sort through last year’s clothes and conclude that jeans and shirts are also in order, as your not-so-little kids have outgrown them once again.

But it’s not just gear you have to think about. The new school year brings with it new expectations, responsibilities, and schedules. As a pediatrician, I’ve found that a health check can be helpful in prioritizing the physical, social, and mental needs of your family.

Here’s a checklist for the season to come.

Get a physical

Recommended annually for children and adults, a physical exam is an opportunity to reconnect with your general physician and pose any health questions you may have. Your pediatrician takes note of your children’s growth and development, and reviews their sleep, nutrition, extracurricular activities, and other habits that impact their health.

But physicals are not just for our kids! As we age, physicals also serve as precautionary measures to keep us in or move us toward optimal health. You and your doctor can take a look at your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, exercise and eating habits, and any aches and pains to check your current health status and any changes you may need to make.

Schedule vaccinations and immunizations

While you’re scheduling your physical, don’t forget that allergy season and flu season are right around the corner. Now is the perfect time to schedule your necessary vaccinations and shots to boost your immune system.

Each year the flu vaccine is updated based on the strains of influenza identified as the most common for the year to come. Though the number of flu cases were historically low last year, each flu season brings a new variant. The flu vaccine isn’t a cure-all, but it can lower you and your child’s risk of contracting the flu and lessens the severity of flu symptoms.

There are plenty of myths about childhood vaccines, so be sure to get the facts and talk to your child’s doctor with any questions.

Choose healthy lunches and snacks

If your kiddos purchase school lunch, confirm that there are healthy options available. If you pack your children’s lunch, make sure they are colorful. Include fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy fats. This goes for you as well! Modeling healthy eating behaviors is the key to creating the same behaviors in your kiddos.

How you snack is just as important. Too many easy-to-grab snacks are loaded with sugar, which leads to an energy crash, hindering your ability to focus and participate in work and school. High-sugar dietary regimens increase depression, weight gain, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and cognitive decline. To keep you and your family energized throughout the day, look for snacks that have fiber, protein, and healthy fats – such as nuts, yogurt and fruit.

Keep the water flowing

H2O shouldn’t stop flowing just because summer is winding down. Though you feel yourself parched more often during the hot months, that doesn’t mean fall is the time to decrease your water intake. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children between one to three years old need approximately four cups of beverages per day, while four to eight year olds require five cups. Older children need seven to eight cups per day, and adults require much more.

If you or your kids participate in sports and physical activities, your water needs are heightened. You should drink water before, during and after exercising. Water is our source of life as it keeps us hydrated, removes toxins from our bodies, and helps us stay focused, among many other health benefits.

While fruit juice is also a source of water, it is also a source of sugar. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 8 ounces of juice per day, or half of the recommended daily fruit servings. American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 2 cups/servings of fruit per day for 7 to 18 year old kids, and a 6 ounce serving of juice provides one fruit serving.

Get outdoors

There’s nothing like fall in North Carolina. As the weather begins to cool, it’s the ideal time to take in the fresh air. The recommended amount of time each week that adults should spend outdoors for good health and wellbeing is 120 minutes. To get started, take a morning stroll before kicking off the workday.

Children require even more outdoor time: 60 to 90 minutes per day. That can be hard to come by when you factor in the time it takes for homework and activities. When the school day wraps, send your kids outside. Encourage them to play tag, soccer, and hopscotch with their siblings and neighbors. If you’re looking for more ideas, here are 100 screen-free ways to keep your kids active. In the evenings, take a family walk and talk about your day.

When the weekend comes around, take a family hike, a bike ride or go fishing. Do some yardwork together and beautify your surroundings while catching some healthy vitamin D rays. Spending time outdoors boosts your immunity, helps you sleep better and focus more, elevates your creativity, reduces depression, and alleviates stress. Get outside this fall, but don’t forget your sunscreen! That’s still a must, even this coming season!

Team up

Fall sports season is kicking off, so join in! Aside from the obvious exercise component, team sports teach kids problem solving and teamwork, decrease stress, boost self-esteem and academic performance, and provide a positive social outlet. Research your school and local community offerings or encourage your children to start a pick-up game amongst friends.

Team sports are beneficial no matter your age. If time and parental responsibilities make it difficult to join an adult league, instead support your child and their team. Practice your child’s sport with them. Play catch together or help them work on their swing. You can even become a coach or snack parent, if you’d like! Set the example you want your kids to follow.

Brush up

Halloween is just around the corner, followed closely by the holiday season. And that means lots of indulgences, so oral health is something to be mindful of.

While you are scheduling your annual physicals and vaccinations, check to see if you’re also due for a dental visit. Oral cleanings are recommended twice a year for both kids and adults to get rid of tartar that regular brushing can’t clear up. Every other visit, dentists take x-rays to detect the early development of cavities, which can form and grow in a matter of months. Oral diseases affect nearly 3.5 billion people worldwide and are largely preventable, so be sure to brush twice a day, floss once a day and stick to healthy food choices.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t partake in the cookies and cakes that will no doubt greet you this coming season. Make room to indulge your cravings here and there and enjoy every bite.

Practice new health habits

Meet the new school year with new resolutions. There’s no need to wait for January 1st to do so. As each new school year promises new routines, it’s the perfect time for everyone to take a fresh look at their health. Prioritize what you do with your body and what you put in it. Exercise it, fuel it right, and be open to ways to decrease stress.

Before you throw yourself into the Back-to-School Season, prepare for it by checking in on your health! Here’s to a new school year!

Kristi Edwards, MD

Kristi Edwards, MD

Pediatrician and Medical Director

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