Get a healthy start to the school year!

Boy eye exam

A reminder from Stanford Children’s Health that along with getting all those school supplies in order, back to school is also a good time for children to get their annual physical exam, or well-child visit. Here’s a primer from Ruchi Gupta, MD on going back to school the healthy way.

Q: How often should my child get his/her physical?

Dr. Gupta: For children 3 and above, is it recommended that wellness visits take place every year. For children less than 3 even more frequently is recommended. Annual wellness visits not only help identify potential problems but also help reinforce positive habits. Children are growing and developing at a much faster pace than adults and it is important to keep track of key measurements over time.

Q: What is the best way to prepare for a physical?

Dr. Gupta: I always encourage parents as well as the child to come prepared with questions or concerns, even written down if that’s helpful. There is a great deal of information shared so it can be easy to forget particular symptoms or questions you want to ask. I also encourage parents of young or nervous patients to remind them that everyone needs to go to the doctor – even grown-ups – and that doctors are here to help them stay healthy.

Q: Is there a difference between a regular physical exam and a sports physical?

Dr. Gupta: Although many things are similar and are important to assess for general health, a sports physical will include slightly different questions and considerations. These are important in order to rule out any risk children might have when they are out playing sports. For example, I may ask for a cardiology exam, depending on personal or family history, to ensure there is not a health risk for them to play a sport.

Q: Are back to school exams required?

Dr. Gupta: Health requirements vary by state and by school district. Typically, health screens and forms are due before the start of a school year, especially for incoming kindergarteners. Whether your child is entering school for the first time or about to graduate, back to school time is a good opportunity for parents to check up on their child’s overall health, whether it is required by the school or just for peace of mind.

Q: Is there any other advice you would offer?

Dr. Gupta: I always take the opportunity before school starts to ask how my patients are feeling about the upcoming school year. It can be an exciting but also stressful time — and it’s important for me to understand their state of mind. I also recommend that families help their children transition more easily to their school schedule by adjusting bedtimes earlier at least a week before the first day of school. It takes time for our bodies to transition, and it’s best to have your biological cycle adjusted again for getting up early and feeling energized. In addition, I advise my patient’s families to plan their child’s weekly meals ahead of time by checking the school’s cafeteria menu or by ensuring the grocery list contains healthy snacks and meal options. Furthermore, I recommend parents ensure their child has received all the necessary vaccinations, especially since the flu season is just around the corner. Finally, back to school means more contact with others – so I remind my patients that hand washing is still one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs and infections. Washing often and scrubbing your whole hand, including wrists and under fingernails, is the best preventative measure for avoiding illness.

Learn more about proper hand washing.

Dr. Gupta is a pediatrician at Bayside Medical Group in San Ramon and Livermore, part of the Stanford Children’s Health medical network.

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