Keeping Eagle County kids healthy
July 23, 2012
Eagle mom Devra Young said her kids, age 8 and 11, are healthy and active, but it’s always a family affair.
“The kids ski with school and with me, and my son races BMX bikes and my daughter does ballet,” Young said. “We don’t have cable, so activities help to keep them active and entertained.”
Young said her children have always been open to a variety of healthy foods, which she thinks has help them maintain healthy habits.
“We try to eat really healthy and to buy organic vegetables and dairy whenever possible,” Young said. “We don’t buy a lot of snack food, and the kids never ate prepared kids’ meals, which I also think helps them want to eat real, whole foods now.”
Young said exercise keeps them on the move.
“The kids have seen by example how exercise makes you feel,” Young said. “When I get stressed, my daughter tells me to go out for a bike ride. They see their parents active and I think it just gives them a good basis for knowing that exercise makes them feel good and gives them more energy.”
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It all starts somewhere, and local physicians can be really helpful when it comes to starting and keeping kids on the right track with their health and well being.
The first year
Dr. Jeff Brown, director of pediatric hospitalists at Vail Valley Medical Center, said that babies in their first year of life are in a crucial stage of development, and somewhat frequent visits are meant to monitor nutrition, development and vaccines.
“This is a rapid period of growth and development,” Brown said. “We are big breastfeeding advocates. The current recommendation is to breastfeed until a baby is a year old, but anything from 6 months on is great from a practical standpoint.”
Brown said to be aware of safety concerns when infants begin rolling over, sitting up and, eventually, walking. Look to “baby-proof” a home by putting latches on cabinets, gates on stairs and diaper table railings, for example.
Toddlers: Age 1 to 3
Once children begin to move around more, Dr. Brown said it’s very important to create a safe environment wherever they may venture.
“This is a very fun time, but it’s also an important time to think safety,” Brown said. “Once kids are walking, parents should get on their hands and knees to look at everything that children can get into, because they will.”
Medications, sharp and hot objects, toxins and soaps should be kept out of reach. Dr. Brown said this is a time of rapid exploration, and toddlers will get into everything without having any sense of what’s OK and what’s not OK to get into. He said to always watch them closely in the tub, seal off cabinets, and to keep them in car seats for safety.
“Car seats need to be properly stored in a car, and children should not move into a booster seat until they are 4 years old or 40 pounds,” Brown said. “We also see a lot poisoning. When Grandma comes to visit, make sure she knows to keep her medications out of reach.”
This is also a time when daycare is often considered, and Dr. Brown said the different options create an important choice for parents. Exposure to other children will inevitably mean exposure to germs, but Dr. Brown said it’s just a matter of time before children are exposed anyway.
“Kids who are never in day care don’t get the sick bugs until they are in school,” Brown said. “But every illness a toddler gets will help him or her to develop an immunity to it.”
Brown said toddlers get about one flu-like sickness per month, so it can be a challenging time for everyone.
Age 3 to 12
With childhood obesity on the rise, Brown said that nutrition and activity is one of the most important focuses for the upcoming generations.
“On average, 1 out of every 3 school-aged kids is obese,” Brown said. “The current generation is the first that is at risk for a shorter life-expectancy than their parents.”
Brown said is a complicated problem, however, and that numerous factors – genetics, environment, economics, education –all contribute to the epidemic.
“A lot of people focus on the kids, but realistically you can’t just try to address the issues of obese children,” Brown said. “Typically, you have to work with the whole family to address everyone’s diet and activity. This really ends up being a family and community issue.”
Although it’s recommended that adolescents have an annual health exam, Vail Valley Medical Center pediatric hospitalist Dr. Gregory Miranda said if they are not in the form of a required sports physical, the visits are often missed.
“A lot of these kids fall through the cracks and are not getting that chance to talk to a health-care provider,” Miranda said.
Miranda said it’s very important to create open communication with teens and maintain a relationship of mutual trust.
“Parents should realize that kids are susceptible to emotional and substance issues sooner than later,” Miranda said. “Pre-teen age is the perfect time to open up lines of communication and let kids know that they have a parent they can trust and go to.”
Approach the topics lightly, said Miranda, and try to talk to kids in gentle and non-threatening environments, such as at the dinner table, on a drive or during television show commercials.
“Talk to kids about what their friends are doing so it’s not a direct interrogation of the child,” Miranda said.
Miranda recommends parents seek support and advice if they don’t know how to handle a situation. He says to look at advice sites such as aap.org.
“There’s a lot of good stuff out there about how to talk to your kids about topics like drugs and sex,” Miranda said.
However, Brown said it’s important to make sure that real emotional issues are being addressed, rather than what can be just symptoms of bigger issues – such as substance abuse to cope with depression.
“I think adolescent depression is probably way under-recognized,” Brown said. “What may look like experimentation with drugs and alcohol may be a method of self-medicating to mask feelings of depression.”
Brown said adolescents should feel comfortable contacting their primary care physician or using school counseling services for personal outlets, and they may also want to seek out private counseling.
“Kids should be able to make a visit independently to the docs office if they want to,” Brown said. “A practitioner can spend some time with parents and a child, but can also spend time with a child alone to create confidentiality.”