Back-to-School Health Tips


It is hard to believe that summer is coming to an end and the start of a new school year has arrived. In addition to necessary back-to-school preparations such as school supplies and clothing, it is important to make your child’s health and wellness a priority as well. To get you started, below are some helpful tips that will offer your child the best chance for a safe and healthy school year.

Promote Healthy Food Choices

Little changes can make a big difference over time. Changing the way you pack your kids' lunches can make them healthier over the long term. Plus, you are helping them appreciate what healthy foods taste like. Try filling their lunchboxes with colorful fruits and vegetables. Grapes, apples, mangoes, berries and thin slices of red bell peppers and carrots are often popular, or mix in a few of your kid's favorites. Switch juices and sodas for water. And consider substituting white bread for whole grains to add more fiber to their diets. Check out our post earlier this month for more tips.

Encourage Good Sleep Hygiene

Sometimes the long days of summer throw sleep routines out of whack. Your kids will be more alert and focused in class if you start to get them ready for their school schedule ahead of time. School-aged children need at least 10 hours of sleep every night. Teens need between nine and 10 hours. For good sleep hygiene, get kids accustomed to the same bedtime every night. Also, try removing screen devices from their rooms at night, like cell phones, tablets, computers, TVs and other gadgets.

Get Checkups, Eye Exams and Immunizations

It is a good idea for kids to have a yearly checkup to keep up with their growth progress and other health concerns. From birth until early adulthood, doctors recommend that children be seen annually to check on their progress. Let the first day of school be a reminder each year that the annual checkup is an important time to assure your child's health and wellness.

As children head to school, some of them might notice trouble with their vision. Nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and many other vision problems may create barriers to learning. Yet young children often do not tell their parents about their vision problems or even recognize that they have problems with their sight. A yearly eye exam can help. Also, watch for signs of vision problems such as:

  • Squinting
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Sitting too close to the television
  • Frequently losing their place while reading
  • Closing one eye to see better
  • Frequent headaches

Polio was once one of the most dreaded childhood diseases in the United States, causing paralysis and even death. In 1955 a vaccine was created and widely implemented. Today polio has been nearly wiped out worldwide. Vaccinations save children from unnecessary pain, illness, and death. That is why all 50 states require school-aged children to be immunized against diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and chickenpox. Be sure your child's immunizations are up-to-date for their safety, and for the safety of others.

Flu Shots

Every year, kids in school are at risk of contracting the flu virus, which interferes with learning and in certain cases can be deadly. To reduce the risk for your children and their classmates, make sure to get them immunized. Everyone above 6 months old should be vaccinated every year to control the spread of flu, according to the CDC. Ideally, get your family vaccinated before October, the start of the flu season.

Stay Physically Fit

Kids need at least an hour a day to exercise. Making sure they get enough exercise is a matter of balancing their priorities. For instance, setting limits on TV-watching, video game time and similar low-energy activities can give kids the encouragement they need to pick up a ball or a jump rope or go out and explore their surroundings. Doing so helps kids maintain a healthy weight, sleep better and feel less stressed out.

Teach Road Rules

As the school year starts, remember to teach your children about walking and bicycling safely. These statistics show how important it is to teach schoolchildren to stay safe:

  • In 2014, car crashes in the U.S. killed 4,884 pedestrians and 726 bicyclists and injured many more.
  • In 2013, one in five U.S. children under the age of 14 killed in an auto crash was a pedestrian.
  • Children ages 5-14 are the most likely pedestrians to be injured in car crashes.

Be sure your kids know to always walk on a sidewalk when available. When there is no sidewalk, always walk on the shoulder of the road facing traffic. And whenever possible, cross the road at intersections with clearly marked crosswalks.

Backpack Burdens

Most experts say that carrying any more than 10-15 percent of a child's body weight in backpacks can cause problems. Heavy backpacks can cause significant pain in children's backs, necks and shoulders. Girls are particularly prone to back pain from overburdened backpacks. Lightweight backpacks with waist belts and padded backs can help. Using both shoulder straps is also a good idea. Finally, finding ways to reduce the extra weight like using lockers more often between classes can help prevent unnecessary pain.

Plan for Sickness at School

Now that most parents work, getting a call from the school nurse can be a major disruption. Caring for your child when they come down with a flu or other illness takes preparation when you are away from home. Your backup plan can include a trusted family member or family friend who can care for your child for the day, or bring them to a babysitter or child care facility flexible enough to take sick kids. Or you could start a parent network at your school for support during challenging situations like this.

Prepare for Emergency Medication

When your child needs medication, the law may prevent schools from administering it without your written consent and a note from a doctor. School staff is not allowed to administer medications as needed, so you need to give them specific instructions on how to medicate your child. Also consider asking your pharmacist to put your child's medication into two labeled bottles — one for use at home, the other to be kept at school. And remember that when it comes to transporting medication, make sure adults are in charge until your child is mature and responsible enough to handle the job.

Try to Ward Off Colds

Do not let colds and other infectious diseases stand in the way of your child's success. Teach your kids the basics of cold prevention. Make sure they know to wash their hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching their face, sneeze into tissues or sleeves and throw tissues away after using them. Finding ways to lower your kids' stress can help them keep colds at bay, too.

Beware of Allergies

The new school year can also bring new allergy concerns. Common classroom allergy triggers include mold, dust mites and chalk dust. Food allergies present another challenge. Try talking with teachers, coaches and other school staff about your child's allergy needs. If your child has hay fever, pay attention to local pollen counts and plan accordingly with allergy-fighting medicine. If your child has a life-threatening food allergy, make sure school staff know how to administer auto-injectable epinephrine.

Beware of the Heat

It is easy to forget that for most students in the U.S., the beginning of the school year is the hottest time of the year. One of the most important ways to protect your child's health in the heat is to be sure they are staying hydrated. For kids aged 4-8, about two quarts of water should be enough on a hot day. The amount increases for each age group, leveling out as teenagers at about 3.5 quarts for boys and 2.4 quarts for girls each day.

Many of these same considerations apply to your college age child.  Going away to school and becoming more responsible for themselves brings some additional concerns. For more information check out the CDC's website.