Keeping kids healthy at school

Seeing a doctor before school starts is a good idea. Many children will need physicals or immunizations.
Seeing a doctor before school starts is a good idea. Many children will need physicals or immunizations.

SALISBURY — Back-to-school time brings to mind backpacks, pencils and new clothes, but a student’s most important school supply could be his or her health.

School entry immunization requirements

Starting kindergarten

Children entering school for the first time are required by state law to receive the following shots:

• DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis) - 5 doses*

• Polio - 4 doses

• Hib (haemophilus influenzae type B) - 3-4 doses**

• Measles - 2 doses

• Mumps - 2 doses

• Rubella - 1 dose

• Hepatitis B - 3 doses

• Varicella (chickenpox) - 1 dose***

* The last dose of DTaP must be given after age 4.

** Children beyond their 5th birthday are not required to have any Hib vaccine.

*** Vacination required unless documentation of disease history.

Starting 6th grade

Children should be up-to-date with all of the required vaccines listed above.

In addition, all children entering 6th grade or those who have reached 12 years of age on or after Aug. 1, 2008, are required by state law to have a booster dose of Tdap (tetanus, dipththeria, acellular pertussis) vaccine, if five years or more have passed since the last dose of tetanus-containing vaccine.

Source: State of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Local and national experts are offering advice and tips for parents to make sure their children stay happy, healthy and ready to learn in the new school year.

Healthy prevention

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the first step for back-to-school is to schedule a visit to the doctor. In its tips for parents, AAP suggests making a list of issues to discuss with the pediatricians, including what immunizations a child is due to receive.

“Certain vaccinations and physical assessments are actually required,” said Nina Oliver, program supervisor with the Rowan County Health Department. “They have to get them done within 30 days of the start of school or be or removed from school.”

The simplest way to meet these requirements is to make an appointment before the school year begins. The health department also offers special clinics in September for children who still need to see a doctor.

Kindergartners can come in to the health department for physical assessments and required vaccines on Sept. 11 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., by appointment only. To make an appointment, call 704-216-8782.

Sixth-graders have two clinics at the health department to receive the Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also known as whooping cough). Those clinics will be held from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 and Sept. 25, by appointment only. Call 704-216-8786.

“If there are younger siblings in the home, especially infants, it’s important for the siblings and adults to be vaccinated,” said Sharon Owen, nursing director. “Infants are susceptible (to whooping cough), but they cannot get a vaccine until two months of age.”

Healthy eating

The AAP suggests that parents talk with their child’s pediatrician about healthful food choices.

They can also ask their child’s school to stock the cafeteria and vending machines with nutritious food, such as fresh fruit, low-fat dairy products, water and 100 percent fruit juice.

If parents don’t like the options the school offers, they can pack lunch and snacks at home.

“Certainly, we advocate eating fruits and vegetables, but with kids that’s hard to do,” said Barbara Ellis, Rowan County Health Director.

Ellis recommends including healthy but tasty snack foods such as apples, carrots, grapes and fruit cups. For children who won’t eat vegetables alone, parents can add small amounts of dips or spreads like ranch dressing or peanut butter (which also provides protein).

“We advocate more whole grain foods, as well as fat-free or low-fat milk,” she said. “If they have to have something sweet to drink, make it 100 percent fruit juice.”

The AAP recommends limiting soda consumption. Each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. Drinking just one can of soda a day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60 percent.

Healthy tips

Play time: “Back in the day, children would come home, do their homework, change their clothes and go out to play,” Ellis said. “Now, kids sit in front of the computer and play video games.”

She said the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that children 2 years of age and older get about 60 minutes per day of physical activity.

“It’s good to start young,” Ellis said. “If they start young, when they get older, they are more inclined to continue with physical activity.”

Outside activities: Parents can encourage their children to join sports teams, develop active hobbies and spend more time moving around during playtime. When riding a bicycle, children should wear helmets that are properly fitted.

Sleep: After all of that activity, children do need rest, Ellis said. She said a good night’s sleep is important for keeping students healthy and alert in class. Parents can help by setting a regular bedtime.

Dealing with bullies: Bullying can not only spoil a child’s playtime, but they also can pose a threat to the child’s physical and mental well-being.

According to the AAP, children should be taught to respond confidently to bullies and encouraged to tell an adult when there’s a problem. Parents also can keep an eye out for bullying and risky behavior online, including social media.

Hand washing: As cold and flu season gets ready for a comeback, Ellis said it’s important to teach children how to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water.

“You can show them proper hand washing technique by (telling them to sing) the ‘Happy Birthday’ song,” Ellis said. “By the time it’s finished, they should have washed their hands pretty good.”

If there is no soap and water available, they can use hand sanitizer to clean their hands instead, she said.

Sneeze into sleeves: Ellis also stressed coughing and sneezing into a sleeve instead of a hand, using tissues only once before throwing them away and not sharing cups or utensils with other students.

Backpack: A student’s backpack also can affect his or her physical wellness. The AAP recommends choosing a bag with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Backpacks should not weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight.

More back-to-school health tips can be found at

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