As our kids go back to school, it is a great time to refresh ourselves on how to improve their health and hopefully keep them from getting sick when going back to school. Two great ways to improve overall health, including our immune system, is through our diet and exercise. I will end the column by talking about the importance of antibiotics, should you or your kids get sick this year.
One of the most important ways to improve your child’s performance in school is through a good, healthy diet. However, it is becoming more and more common that our children are overfed and undernourished. In 2012, the CDC estimated that 1 in 3 children were overweight or obese. So it is not that we are not feeding our children, it is what we are feeding them! In a large study looking at nutrition in school-age children, 42% of calories came from snacks, which are usually unhealthy.
It is recommended that snacks should be no more than 100 calories and should consist of protein and some carbohydrates. Nuts such as almonds or walnuts are great options, as are vegetables like carrots or celery with peanut butter. Most of our calories should come from meals with 25% coming from breakfast, 30% coming from lunch, and 25% coming from dinner. And yes, breakfast is crucial to feed the brains of our kids, especially in times where they are trying to learn. Skip those sugary cereals and look for cereals with whole grains, oatmeal, or eggs with toast. If waffles or pancakes are a favorite, try making them from scratch using natural ingredients instead of getting them from the freezer.
For lunch, make sure that about 40% of the calories come from complex carbohydrates, like whole grain breads, fruits, and vegetables. And lastly, make sure that water is THE staple drink and limit sugary soft drinks, juices, tea, and energy drinks. A study at the University of Lethbridge showed that water improves overall well-being in our kids and also showed that 1 out of 2 kids are chronically dehydrated.
Another source of nutrition support can also come from vitamins. Though not everyone needs vitamins! If the diet is high in fruits, vegetables, and protein as well as low in simple carbohydrates (like sugar and processed grains/flours), a vitamin is probably not necessary. However, in today’s hurried lifestyle with quick meals and fast-food, our kids aren’t getting the vitamins and minerals that they need.
Vitamins are not created equal. Take a look at the children’s vitamins that you have or at your local store or pharmacy. The highest ingredient in most of these vitamins is sugar. And you probably can’t pronounce most of the ingredients. That is because they are full of chemicals, which are hard to be absorbed and used in the body. So look for a natural vitamin – one where you can read and understand the ingredients!
As I mentioned earlier, exercise is also critical to our emotional and physical well-being. This is probably even more true for elementary aged children. As you probably know, elementary aged children have a lot of energy and this can cause them to fidget. John Ratey, MD is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University and has studied exercise in typical children, children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and children with autism. He has found that exercise “causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn”. That exercise can be running, playing soccer or basketball (those running sports), jumping rope, or just playing “tag”. And exercise that uses “hard work” like wheel-barrow races or crab walks can improve attention and behavior in kids with ADHD and autism. Try it and see what you find with your kids.
If your kids do get sick, they may be prescribed an antibiotic. Antibiotics will help with sickness caused by a bacterial infection but won’t help with a virus. So ask your doctor if your child has a bacterial or viral infection. And make sure that every course of antibiotics is finished. Too often people will stop taking their antibiotic when they start to feel better. But all of the bacteria may not have been killed and there is a possibility that those remaining bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotic, which means that the medicine won’t work the next time. Make sure that good nutrition, water, and rest are a part of every treatment for an infection!
Hopefully, these tips have helped and your kids have a great start to the school year. Enjoy the year learning and having fun with friends! Don’t forget the importance of diet, hydration, and exercise each day. Make it a great year!!
Dr. Phillip Thornton, RPh, PhD can be reached at Mint Hill Pharmacy. 704.910.2718. Call or stop by to learn about our free children’s vitamin program and Kids Antibiotic Club.