Back-to-school season is a great time to focus on your children’s health—and your own health, too. Physical exams, eye exams, and immunizations are just some of the requirements that schools impose before school starts. Do you have a primary care physician who can help you meet these requirements, while also taking care of your health needs as a parent?
Having a relationship with a primary care physician, like a family medicine doctor, is one way to gear up your family for a healthier school year. On top of the required exams and immunizations, a family medicine doctor can help you manage your and your children’s health on a day-to-day basis. This is key to building a stronger immunity, fighting infection and disease, and preventing serious illness. A family medicine doctor can treat members of your family of all ages and refer you to other healthcare specialists when you have particular health needs.
Prince Hodogbey, MD, is a Sinai Medical Group doctor who specializes in family medicine at Westcare Medical Center in South Austin. We asked him a few questions about how parents and children can stay healthy throughout the school year.
1. Why is back-to-school an important time for parents and children to focus on health?
At school, kids are near each other almost all day. It also just so happens that in Chicago, the school day and school year are getting longer and longer. This means that children are sharing the same environment for longer periods of time. If you’re with someone who has an infection or disease for more time, you have more of a chance of catching the same germ. That is why vaccination is very important: to help fight infection and disease.
2. How can vaccines help children stay healthy throughout the school year? Which vaccines are most important for children, and why?
Vaccines are very important because they can prevent most diseases that we get from one another. Even if we do catch a disease from someone else, if we are vaccinated, it can prevent us from catching the most serious form of the disease. It’s important to get vaccines before school starts because if one child is not vaccinated, the chance of him or her catching a severe form of a disease from a classmate is very high.
I consider all vaccines to be very important, especially the flu vaccine.
3. Why does every child need to receive a physical exam before starting the new school year?
A physical is important because the primary care provider is going to take a full health assessment of the child. This includes vision, hearing, breathing, and everything else that goes into our health. As a primary care physician, I have found that some parents don’t know that their child has a vision problem, and even the child may not know. During a physical exam, we can screen for vision problems and other potential health issues. If your primary care physician finds anything wrong, he or she will help you find a specialist who can help alleviate or cure the issue before the child returns to school.
We encourage all parents to have children physically examined every year. We also encourage parents to have exams. They should be tested for diabetes and high blood pressure, among other things. If your physician finds, for example, that you have high blood pressure, then he or she can help you make sure that you get healthier to reduce the chance of a more serious health issue, like a heart attack or stroke.
4. What are some health concerns that parents should address before their children start a new school year?
Over the summer, kids’ sleep patterns may change. Children go to sleep later and wake up later. But as we all know, school starts very early in the morning. A few weeks before school starts again, ease your children into waking up early again so their sleep schedules are re-set. If the child goes to bed late and wakes up early, the child will be sleepy at school and not learn as much.
Another area to focus on is diet and nutrition. What we eat is who we are. If you eat something that is not good for the body, it will cause problems, sometimes immediately. Nutrition is a very important part of a child’s health, and it is becoming difficult, especially in our community, for parents to provide healthy food to their families every day. A lack of nutrition can directly lead to other health problems, especially weight management issues. Find out how your school will be feeding your kids in the morning and at lunch. Figure out the snacks they will have after school.
5. How can having a primary care physician help a family stay on top of their health?
Primary care physicians tend to see everybody: kids and adults alike. More often than not, a primary care physician can identify any given health issue you may describe. If we cannot treat it, we can identify a specialist who can. A good relationship with one primary care physician can go a long way for a family’s health.
6. Can you share some tips for parents dealing with stress during the school year?
Parenting is a team effort. Getting children to and from school, in addition to working and providing safety and food, is a lot of work. It’s much easier when two parents are involved and can arrange schedules together. To stay healthy as a family, I encourage both parents to be heavily involved in their children’s daily lives.
Another way to minimize stress is to keep your children’s health information organized. I encourage parents, when they come to a doctor’s office, to bring the child’s most current vaccination record. This helps us ensure that the child is vaccinated on time, which goes a long way for the child’s health.
7. Any additional advice for our readers?
In our community, we need to look at our health habits. Smoking, drug use, and sexual promiscuity are all common. Those are things that we all need to consider, and change, as parents and as people who are invested in the health of our community.