Dr. Zorba Paster: Healthy start to back to school

Dr. Zorba Paster: Healthy start to back to school


Ah … I remember it well, those days of youth when summer was coming to an end. The curtain fell and schoolwork began. New shoes, new clothes. And that trip to the doctor to make sure everything was up to date.

So let’s review what every parent should think about before sending their child back to school.

First, I want to talk about lifestyle issues — eating habits, exercise and sleep. Making sure your lovely child has calories in them before they see their teacher every day is essential.


Just think about it, if they last ate at 9 p.m. the evening before and they don’t eat again until lunch, it’s a 15-hour fast. Not good for young minds. Give them something before they skip out of the house and off to school. Whether it’s the old standby cereal or a bagel with cream cheese or a banana, kids need something to fuel their brain.

As for lunch, that’s my next thought. Whether it’s the warm lunch at school or the bag lunch you pack, be aware of what your kids are eating.

You’re teaching lifelong nutritional habits here. What they eat at lunch just might be a staple of what they eat in their 30s. If you pack that sandwich with Cheetos and a Coke, well, you guessed what foods they might favor in the future.

Screens and sleep

Now let’s talk about screen time and sleep. If your kid has trouble sleeping, studies have shown that exposure to any “blue light” screens — TV, computer, tablet or phone — can disrupt sleep.

Half an hour before lights out, have them read a book or a magazine — my favorite at a young age was comic books — anything to slow the mind and ease them into dreamland. Electronics can disrupt normal sleep patterns.


On to exercise — and I’m not talking about mouse wrist action but the real stuff. Getting them out of the house to move those muscles is critical.

Exercise goes hand-in-hand with limiting screen time — and that means for parents, too. If you’re on the phone looking at cat videos when you should be watching your kids kick the soccer ball, what are you telling them? Balancing electronic media use with exercise is a challenge for all of us. Show by example.


Finally, a word about immunizations — we have lots of them. There’s the usual polio and DPT (for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, or whooping cough). The Hib vaccine (protecting against Haemophilus influenzae type B) has nearly wiped out childhood meningitis.

Then there’s the anti-cancer vaccine HPV, protecting against the human papilloma virus. It prevents cervical cancer in girls when they become women and head and neck cancer and penile cancer in boys when they become men.

Studies have shown the best time to give this — the time when it will give lifelong protection — is about the age of 9 or 10. There are some parents who think they are giving permission for their middle school kids to have sex when they give the HPV vaccine. Really? People think this? Yes, really!

Folks, this vaccine prevents cancer that’s related to future sexual activity. We could possibly wipe out cervical cancer, which 12,000 women got and 4,200 died from last year. Don’t let your daughter be this statistic. That’s dumb.

And when boys become men, if they engage in oral genital sex they can get HPV in their throat — a rising form of throat cancer in adult men. A good friend of mine from years back just died from this. The HPV shot wasn’t around when he was a kid — if it was then he’d still be alive. Don’t let your son be one of those numbers. Get smart and get them vaccinated!

There’s also the meningitis vaccine, which I think is a must for college students living in residence halls. It’s not a common problem but it is a deadly problem. It seems like every year we hear of some kid in a dorm getting sick and dying within 24 hours.

If a vaccine can prevent this, why not do it? If you’re not sold on this vaccine, at least practice due diligence and have your kid look at the data, then let them make the decision on whether to get it. After all, most college kids are 18, ready to vote, so let them vote on this. Making them part of the process is good parenting.

My spin: As a parent, I know back-to-school is an important time. Take action to help keep your child healthy and safe. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.


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