Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

A healthy send-off to school



Starting or returning to school is a major adjustment that can create plenty of stress for kids and parents. That’s why the pediatric and adolescent health experts at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital believe it is important to stay on top of a child’s health as well as his or her studies. Here are some back-to-school health tips from Packard Children’s specialists.

Fight the fast-food world

Dietician and nutritionist Julie Matel, MS, suggests recruiting young kids for lunchbox duty. “Involving kids in making their lunch may help lunches get eaten,” said Matel, who advises preparing lunch the night before to reduce morning chaos. “Parents have to be creative, too. Nutritious food can be made to sound like fun. For example, try making ‘ants on a log,’ which is a celery stick covered with peanut butter and raisins.”

Backpack pains

It’s easy for a child’s backpack to become a health hazard. “It’s not uncommon to hear kids as young as 12 complain of pain in their shoulders, neck and back,” said physical therapist Debbie Tong, MA. “It can be due to an overloaded backpack or a backpack improperly worn.”

Parents should follow the American Physical Therapy Association guidelines suggesting that a backpack weigh no more than 15 percent of a child’s weight, she said. “Following this rule will lessen the wear and tear on muscles and ligaments as well as prevent poor posture. A wheeled backpack is another option, but make sure the handle is long enough and the wheels are large for best posture. Help your child by taking out items that can be left at home and organize the contents to better distribute the weight.”

Sleep without a peep

As a father of two school-age children, Rafael Pelayo, MD, pediatric sleep expert, has both a personal and professional interest in helping kids get a good night’s sleep. “A bedtime routine is as important for a 2-year-old as it is for a 12-year-old or a 35-year-old,” Pelayo said. “This means having two to three relaxing activities to help you wind down before falling asleep.”

The best activities? “A National Sleep Foundation poll found that children who read just prior to bed or were read to slept better and longer,” said Pelayo, who has worked with the foundation on many of its sleep improvement initiatives.

Keep them active

An overloaded or improperly worn backpack can quickly become a health hazard.


Some schools don’t have physical education classes, and not every kid is on a school sports team. “Parents can incorporate exercise in other ways,” said clinical instructor Dana Weintraub, MD. “For instance, instead of having children take the school bus, try having parents or other adults walk groups of children to school together.”

Weintraub also said that parents need to be proactive. “Contact your child’s school, school district or health care provider to find out about after-school programs that include physical activity,” she said.

Avoiding sports injuries

In addition to staying active, kids need to make sure they exercise safely to avoid injury, said orthopedic surgeon James Gamble, MD. Proper stretching and warm-ups are essential.

“Whether it’s for PE class, an after-school activity or varsity sports, proper precautions need to be taken,” Gamble said. “The bone structure of most adolescents is not as developed as adults’, meaning there are areas of growing tissue near the end of long bones. These growth areas injure more often than tendons and ligaments, and can cause a more serious injury to a teen athlete. Almost no sport is immune to growth plate injuries.”

College health prep

Adolescent medicine specialist Sophia Yen, MD, MPH, thinks that young adults should be ready for more than just the academics of college. That’s why she advises families of college-bound kids to visit an adolescent medicine health expert.

“It’s what I like to call a college tune-up,” said Yen. “We make sure young adults are up to date on college-required immunizations, and we offer the HPV vaccine (see story on Page 7). Additionally, we discuss the pressures of alcohol and sex, and share ways for maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.”

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