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Keeping Children Healthy
By Dr. Chad Rudnick / October, 2011

It is important to review tips to make sure your child's return to the classroom doesn't mean trips to the doctor's office for colds, coughs, fevers, and other reasons.

On average, children contract between six and twelve common cold infections per year. The number one way to keep your child on the lower end of the common cold infection spectrum is to teach, encourage, and stress good hand hygiene. Use soap and water often, as the majority of common cold infections are spread via direct contact or contact with a contaminated surface. A good rule of thumb is to have your children sing "Happy Birthday" in their heads while scrubbing their hands together. This equates to roughly fifteen seconds of washing, which is recommended for the proper hand washing technique.

Pack a bottle of hand sanitizer in your children's backpacks each day for them to use, if there is no sink available. A good way to improve the chance they will actually use the sanitizer is to let them choose a scent that they like. Try to encourage their teachers to make it a habit that all children wash or sanitize their hands before lunch, snacks, and after recess.

Speaking of food, a nutritious breakfast is extremely important for children's health. Research studies show that optimal nutrition at breakfast is important for brain maturation. It is linked to higher test scores and cognitive functioning. Try to include items from as many food groups as possible for each morning meal.

There is another issue to consider. Thousands of children are seen in the emergency room and doctors' offices for backpack-related injuries each year. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children carry no more than ten to twenty per cent of their body weight in their backpacks. For example, an eighty-pound child should carry no more than sixteen pounds in his or her backpack.

This upper limit may seem unattainable, but the twenty per cent threshold can be easily approached when multiple textbooks and binders are brought home. If your child's backpack is too heavy, consider asking the teacher or school for an extra set of textbooks to keep at home. Always use a bag with two shoulder straps that fit comfortably, as opposed to single-strap backpacks that do not distribute weight evenly.

This is also the time of year to review car, bus, and bike safety with your family. The AAP recommends that children under age two be kept in rear-facing car seats properly secured in the backseat. The Journal of Injury Prevention states that children under two years of age who are rear-facing are seventy-five per cent less likely to be seriously injured or killed in a car accident. Additionally, children less than four feet nine inches tall should ride in a booster seat, as most seatbelts do not fit properly on small children.

Encourage parents in your neighborhood to have children walk to and from the bus stop in groups or with an adult. Children riding their bicycles to school should always ride on sidewalks and in groups when ever possible. Helmets should be worn at all times to prevent serious head injuries, which can occur even with falls at low speeds. For more information on back-to-school tips, please consult with your physician.

Dr. Chad Rudnick is a pediatric resident at Miami Children's Hospital in Miami. He is the also the author of the blog site All Things Pediatric (chadrudnick.blogspot.com). He is committed to being an advocate for children on a local, state, and national level. Follow All Things Pediatric on Twitter@Pedsdoc.




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