To have a great school year, kids need to stay healthy. Healthy students are better learners. CDC has tips and resources for parents and schools to help children and teens get fit and stay healthy whether they’re just starting kindergarten or heading off to high school.
“As a parent and grandparent, I know that back-to-school time is a busy time. Yet, I encourage parents and students to be mindful of some health essentials to add to your to-do lists,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. “Getting a flu shot this fall, frequent hand-washing, and staying active all contribute to a healthier and more productive academic year.”
Wash your hands
Germs are everywhere. Touch a surface where germs are lurking, then touch your face, and you can get sick.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Handwashing with soap and water is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of colds, flu, and other diseases to others.
Parents, teachers, and informed students can teach proper handwashing so people don’t pass germs or illnesses to others. At school, it’s important for students to wash their hands before eating; after using the toilet; and after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing. Handwashing also helps keep students, their families, and school staff healthy so they don’t miss school or work.
Eat well and be active
Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important for children. Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. children have obesity, putting them at risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. Children with obesity also are more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.
Most children consume almost half of their calories at school. That makes school a great place to learn and practice healthy eating – a gift that keeps on giving for a lifetime. Check out this fact sheet for what parents and schools can do to encourage a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy, lean meats and oils in controlled portions with limited amounts of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium.
Did you know that being physically active can help reduce anxiety and even help with a child’s focus in school? The time kids spend watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the web is time they could be physically active. Experts recommend children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day—before, during, and after school; running, walking, and playing sports all count!
Limit sugary drinks
While calories in drinks are not exactly hidden (they’re listed right on the Nutrition Facts label), many people don’t realize just how many calories are in the beverages they drink. Here’s the good news: Water is a great, no-calorie, low-cost substitute for sugary drinks. Drinking plenty of water every day is a great habit to establish for a lifetime.
Don’t use E-cigarettes
E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youth. In 2018 more than 3.6 million young people – including 1 in 5 high-school students and 1 in 20 middle-school students – currently used (in the past 30 days) e-cigarettes.
The nicotine in e-cigarettes can harm the developing adolescent brain – specifically the areas of the brain that are responsible for learning, memory, and attention.
To prevent e-cigarette use by young people, parents and teachers can talk to their children and students about why e-cigarettes are harmful for them and walk the talk by being tobacco-free. School administrators can implement tobacco-free school policies that include e-cigarettes.
CDC has free resources, including fact sheets for parents and teachers and a presentation that teachers and coaches can use to help their students learn about the risks of e-cigarette use.
Schools are opening, but it’s still hot out there. Learn how to recognize, prevent, and treat heat-related illness. Remember these tips while participating in outdoor activities:
- Schedule workouts and practices earlier or later in the day when the temperature is cooler.
- Limit outdoor activity, especially during the middle of the day when the sun is hottest.
- Pace activity. Start activities slow and pick up the pace gradually.
- Wear and reapply sunscreen as indicated on the package.
- Drink more water than usual, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more. Muscle cramping may be an early sign of heat-related illness.
- Pair up: you monitor a teammate’s condition and have someone do the same for you.
- Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
Heads up! Any child can fall, knock his/her head, or get a concussion in any number of school settings ranging from school sports activities to the hallway, the playground, the cafeteria and beyond.
Being able to identify and respond to concussions early can help save a life. Visit CDC Heads Up for information on responding to concussions and supporting students when they return to school after a concussion.
Plan for emergencies
Plan ahead! As children head back to school, it’s important to have a written emergency care plan and to practice that plan as often as needed. The plan should include any medicines your child needs to take or any assistive devices used by your child, such as a motorized wheelchair or assistive communication device. Having conversations now with your child’s teacher about being prepared in an emergency can help reduce your concerns if an emergency does happen.
Connect with kids at school and home
“Adolescent connectedness” refers to children’s sense of belonging, of being cared for and supported by parents, teachers, and other important people. How connected children feel to school and family can have a strong influence on their lives that continues well into adulthood. Teens with higher levels of connectedness are less likely to experience adverse health outcomes in adulthood, including:
- Getting a sexually transmitted disease.
- Misusing prescription drugs or engaging in illicit drug use.
- Having been the victim of physical violence.
From newborns to college students, getting vaccinated can help protect children and teens as they grow into adulthood. Making sure their children get vaccinated is one of the most important things parents can do to protect the health of their child.
Vaccinations also protect a child’s classmates, friends, relatives, and others in the community. On-time vaccination protects kids before they are exposed to highly contagious and life-threatening diseases like measles, whooping cough, and chickenpox.
One of the newest vaccines available can prevent cancer. Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common virus that is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact and can lead to certain types of cancer later in life. Making sure your 11- to 12- year-old child gets two doses of the HPV vaccine can prevent these cancers.
CDC has online resources and tools to help parents keep their kids up to date on recommended vaccinations. Additionally, states may require children to get vaccinated against certain diseases before their first day of school. Visit the Immunization Action Coalition’s State Information for more information.
And if your child has missed any vaccinations, a healthcare provider can use the catch-up immunization schedule to get them back on track. Make sure your kids get their vaccinations before the back-to-school rush!
The bottom line: Student health is linked to academic achievement. Visit the Parents for Healthy Schools website for more information about how parents can play a powerful role in supporting their children’s learning and encouraging a healthy lifestyle for years to come.