Kick Off A Healthy School Year
Your child spends more time at school than anywhere else except home. Schools deal with specific health problems in students, such as asthma and obesity, and also work to prevent risky behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco use and bullying.
“Parents can team up with educators and coaches to help reinforce positive behaviors,” says Dr. Jennifer Turkish, M.D., a family medicine physician. “Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and set positive examples. If you feel any cause for concern about your child’s behavior or overall health, consult your family physician.”
According to a national survey, 16 percent of eighth graders reported drinking alcohol within the past month. Girls 12 to 17 reported drinking alcohol more frequently than boys the same age.
“Kids often begin drinking to look ‘cool’ or fit in with their peers,” says Dr. Turkish. Many kids begin drinking as early as middle school or even sooner. Kids who drink are more likely to be victims of violent crime and sexual assault, be involved in drinking-related traffic crashes, and develop problems with alcohol later in life.
Nearly a quarter of high school students smoke cigarettes. Another 8 percent use smokeless tobacco. “Everyone knows that smoking has lasting health risks,” says Dr. Turkish. “The younger you are when you start smoking, the more problems smoking can cause.”
People who start smoking before age 21 have the hardest time quitting. About 30 percent of youth smokers will continue smoking and die early from a smoking-related disease. Teen smokers
are more likely to use alcohol and illegal drugs, have panic attacks, anxiety disorders and depression.
Bullying is when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker or who they think is weaker. Sometimes bullying involves hitting, name calling, teasing or taunting; sometimes it is indirect, such as spreading rumors or trying to make others reject someone. Cyber-bullying takes place online.
“Often people dismiss bullying among kids as a normal part of growing up,” says Dr. Turkish, “but bullying is harmful. It can lead children and teenagers to feel tense, afraid and otherwise affect their physical and emotional well being. In severe cases, bullied teens may take drastic measures. Sadly,
some children who have been bullied have attempted, and even succeeded, at suicide. The effects of bullying can last a lifetime.”
Asthma causes airways to become sore and swollen. Nearly nine million children in the US have asthma. “Children have smaller airways than adults, which makes asthma especially serious for them.
Children with asthma may experience wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and trouble breathing, especially early in the morning or at night,” says Dr. Turkish.
Many things can cause asthma, including allergens such as mold, pollen, animals; irritants such as cigarette smoke or air pollution; cold air and changes in weather; exercise; and infections such as the flu and colds.
“Children grow at different rates, so it isn’t always easy to know when a child is obese or overweight,” says Dr. Turkish. “Ask your physician to measure your child’s height and weight to determine if he or she is in a healthy range.”
If a weight loss program is necessary, involve the whole family in healthy habits so your child doesn’t feel singled out. Encourage healthy eating by serving more fruits and vegetables and buying fewer sodas and high-calorie, high-fat snack foods. “Movement mobilizes the immune system,” says Dr. Turkish. “Kids who sit too much – especially indoors – get sick more often. Movement also mellows the mood, as stress depresses the immune system. Encourage children to actively participate in recess and extracurricular, outdoor activities to keep their immune systems strong and their weight
“Put hundreds of kids together in an enclosed space and you’re bound to have germs,” says Dr. Turkish. “The first and easiest line of defense against spreading germs is washing hands frequently,
or use a hand wipe or hand sanitizer. Also personal items that you put in your mouth – from water bottles to wind instruments to mouth guards –should not be shared.”