Healthy Tips for Happy Holidays

Within the holiday season’s boxes, bunting and bountiful food lie health hazards for children and families. Experts at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital offer some wisdom to keep families safe and healthy this season.

Road Trip to Grandma’s

Fidgety kids make for tough travel. Lisa Chamberlain, MD, mother of two, has advice. “Take breaks at rest stops. Let the kids get out and play for a while,” she said. What about snacks? “Filling a cooler with healthy bars, crackers and bottled water can help parents avoid filling kids with junk food.”

Whether plane, train or automobile, preparation is top priority. “Successful planning and packing needs to take into account the age and developmental stage of the child. Younger children need more distraction since their attention span is short. Parents can pack small things like books, magnetic games, crayons for drawing, and stickers so they can offer new activities at needed intervals. Older children will obviously require fewer distinct activities.”

Eat Well, Play Hard (even in the cold!) and Limit Screen Time

How can you balance holiday food with exercise? “Why not add some new traditions that require movement?” said Tom Robinson, MD, director of Packard Children’s Center for Healthy Weight. “Go out and play a game of football, head to the park or the petting zoo – and be sure to limit children’s screen time, regardless of all their video options.”

Robinson has led multiple research efforts into the relationship between screen time and children’s eating habits, weight gain and effects on education. “Our research has found many benefits from a budget of seven hours a week of total screen time, which includes TV, DVDs, video games, and computers,” said Robinson. “I also include portable devices like smart phones and game players in that total budget.”

And for those dealing with a cold climate? “Kids don’t get colds from being in the cold,” Robinson said. “They get colds from viruses, which are passed from person to person. Sending kids out to play in the cold, or even the rain, will not make them sick.” It might even make them healthier!

Avoid Button Batteries

During your holiday shopping, keep in mind that some of the gifts your kids want most may contain a hidden danger: the high-powered and pervasive button battery, which has been responsible for injuring an estimated 23,000 children under the age of 13 and killing 12, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“To avoid a trip to the emergency room, be sure to keep all button batteries away from small children,” said Bernard Dannenberg, MD, director of pediatric emergency medicine. “These batteries discharge electricity, heat, and heavy metals if they are swallowed, and can burn a hole in the esophagus or intestines. They can cause poisoning.”

Flu Shots Don’t Cause the Flu!

Who wants their holidays ruined by the flu? Parents and kids can stay healthy this season by getting a flu shot: “The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the likelihood of getting the flu by 60 to 70 percent,” said Yvonne Maldonado, MD, chief of pediatric infectious disease at Packard Children’s. Maldonado urges patients to get the flu shot even if they have received one the year before, as the flu virus frequently mutates, thereby decreasing the body’s immunity.

Another tip: Don’t think that flu shots actually cause the flu.  “People think that getting the flu vaccine causes the flu, but that is really a myth,” Maldonado said. “We throw the word “flu” around pretty easily. People may think they have the flu, when in fact they have another respiratory virus.”

Don’t Believe the Hype About Sugar Making Kids Hyper

It’s hard to believe, but it’s just our belief that eating sugar leads to hyperactive behavior. “Our expectations about behavior can really set us up,” says Tom Robinson, MD. “So what we believe can greatly impact how we feel or act, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, often more than what we eat.”

A review in the  Journal of the American Medical Association supports this rationale. Eating sugar does cause a small and temporary increase in blood glucose levels, says Robinson, but healthy people can’t feel these effects. “In well-designed and conducted studies in which participants are blinded to whether they are receiving sugar or a placebo, both adults and children can’t tell the difference,” he adds.  Similarly, when children are given a placebo such as a sugar-free juice, but think they are drinking regular sugar-sweetened juice, they will act more hyper. The same thing even happens when the children are not aware but the parents think their kids have consumed a sugary food or drink. In that case, the children behave in response to their parents’ expectations.

“There are lots of other reasons to limit sugary foods and drinks,” says Robinson. “Sugar will harm your teeth and contribute to weight gain.” So while too much sugar may not be bad for behavior, it’s still bad for your health.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)