Back-to-School Health Checklist

August marks back-to-school season, an ideal time for Texas parents to help improve their children’s health. Before schedules become packed with classes, homework and extracurricular activities, here’s a back-to-school “health checklist” to help give children a better chance to succeed inside and outside the classroom: 

Get a Comprehensive Eye Exam 

About 80% of what children learn is through their eyes. With that in mind, a child’s first comprehensive eye exam should occur before age 1, again at age 3 and before entering school If no vision issues are detected, school-aged children should have an exam at least once every two years. Also, a school’s vision screening is not a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam, as screenings can miss conditions such as poor eye alignment, focusing issues and farsightedness. 

The inability to see clearly can affect a child’s physical, emotional and social development, which in turn can affect academic and athletic performance. Children often don’t complain if their vision isn’t normal, so it’s important to look for possible signs such as squinting while reading or watching television, difficulty hitting or catching a ball or headaches when watching 3D movies. 

Also, be aware of digital eye strain, which is caused by prolonged use of computers or smartphones. Help your child practice healthy vision habits by keeping computer screens at least 30 inches from their eyes, resting their eyes every 20 minutes and blinking frequently to avoid dry eyes.  

Get a Dental Cleaning 

Maintaining proper oral health matters more than just keeping a sparkling smile – it’s also important for good overall health. This is especially true for children, as untreated dental problems may diminish attention, decrease self-esteem and limit a child’s ability to learn at school. 

Tooth decay is largely preventable, yet it ranks as the most common chronic disease among children. About 33% of young kids, ages 2 to 8, have cavities in their baby teeth, and 20% of kids in the same age group have cavities in their adult teeth. With that in mind, parents should schedule regular dental exams every six months, especially at schools that require a back-to-school dental checkup.

For parents with teenagers, it is important to recognize the risks of opioid addiction, especially after wisdom teeth removal. If you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid following a dental or other medical procedure, ask your health care professional if there are alternatives, including over-the-counter pain relievers such as a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.   

Get Recommended Immunizations 

Many schools in Texas require that children are properly immunized before they enter the classroom to help to avoid serious diseases and prevent other students from contracting them. Children’s vaccines are 90-99% effective and may help protect kids from diseases such as mumps, tetanus and chicken pox. By helping reduce the risk of contracting potentially preventable diseases such as the flu, children may have fewer school absences. 

Parents should check with their doctor to determine what immunizations are appropriate based on age. Most shots are given by the time children are 2 years old, but some are administered into the teen years. If your child runs a low-grade fever or has swelling in the shot location after the immunization, these minor side effects typically last a couple days. Apply a cool, wet washcloth on the sore area to help ease discomfort, but check with your doctor about the appropriateness of over-the-counter pain medications.

Back-to-school season is an exciting time for many children and their parents. Consider these guidelines to help encourage your child’s health and success throughout the school year.  

Making the Most of Wellness Programs

More people in Texas and across the country are gaining access to well-being programs that encourage consumers to adopt healthier lifestyles and, ideally, help curb health care costs. According to a recent study, 87 percent of employers are committed to workplace well-being efforts, and nearly 73 percent offer a program. 

These efforts are already producing results: Among people with access to employer-sponsored well-being programs, 57 percent said the initiatives had a positive effect on their health, according to the 2019 UnitedHealthcare Wellness Check Up Survey. Among those, 82 percent said they were motivated to pay more attention to their health; 63 percent said they increased physical activity; 59 percent improved their diet; and 30 percent reported improved sleep.

As people seek to improve their health habits, here are some tips to help consumers become healthier and make the most of their well-being programs: 

Modify Lifestyle Choices: As many as 80 percent or more of the incidence of premature chronic conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, are caused by modifiable lifestyle choices – such as risk factors like smoking or obesity – as opposed to being caused by genetic factors, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With that in mind, people should consider ways to make healthier choices throughout the workday, such as starting or participating in walking meetings, using onsite fitness equipment or taking advantage of biometric screenings, or opting for a stand-up desk. During breaks, choose healthier snacks such as fruits and vegetables, while go-to lunches can include a sandwich with a lean protein – such as turkey or chicken breast – or a visit to the salad bar. 

Earn Available Incentives: Mid-sized and large employers this year will offer an average per-employee well-being incentive of $762, according to a study by the National Business Group on Health. Check with your HR department to determine what well-being incentives might be available to you. For instance, some programs enable people to earn more than $1,000 per year by meeting certain daily walking goals. Other initiatives provide discounts on gym memberships and premium discounts for meeting various health benchmarks, such as a non-nicotine use or normal blood pressure. 

Start to Socialize: Recent research shows that meaningful relationships may be crucial for overall health. By incorporating social components into your well-being or fitness routine, you may be more likely to stick with it. The Wellness Check Up Survey found that over half of respondents said they are more likely to participate in a fitness routine if there is a social component, either in-person or virtually. Potential strategies include participating in walking groups, going to group fitness classes or joining recreational leagues such as basketball or tennis.       

Beat Burnout: Most employees said meditation, or mindfulness, has a positive impact on a person’s overall health, according to the Wellness Check Up Survey. To encourage mindfulness, ask your company to devote office space for “relaxation rooms” to help employees lower their stress levels, or inquire about adding an online or phone-based mindfulness program. For a do-it-yourself “mindfulness kit” to take with you to work, grab health-related items such as caffeine-free tea, a stress ball or a gratitude journal.       

Make the Most of Medicare: People eligible for Medicare – i.e., Americans 65 and older – can also take advantage of well-being programs and incentives. Medicare Advantage plans may offer rewards for actions that help you stay healthy and active, as well as additional wellness programs not available through Original Medicare. These can include fitness memberships, online brain games, nutritional support, and access to vitamins and over-the-counter health items at no additional cost.

How to Help Protect Your Eyes and Ears This Summer

Outdoor concerts and activities are synonymous with summer, offering Texans an opportunity to enjoy the warmer weather. But these traditions often have a connection to the health of your eyes and ears, so it is important to be mindful as we celebrate the summer and all that goes with it.

Here are several summertime settings to take note of to help protect your eyes and ears: 

A Day in the Sun
If you’re planning an outing that involves many hours in the sun, it is a good idea to use eye protection in addition to sunscreen. 

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause damage to both your skin and your eyes. UV rays may contribute to the development of cataracts and macular degeneration, which may result in blindness. Intense short-term exposure to UV light may cause “eye sunburn,” a painful condition associated with outdoor recreational activity. 

Too much long-term exposure may contribute to skin cancer around the eyes and sight-threatening conditions. To help reduce these risks, protect your eyes from the sun by wearing sunglasses that block out 99% or more of UV rays and a wide-brimmed hat. 

Keep in mind that it is important for people – especially children – to get outside and take breaks from digital devices. Studies show that natural light can promote healthy vision, especially among children and teens with developing eyes, and that spending time outside may be a protective factor against nearsightedness. Partly due to extended periods of up-close reading and screen time, more than 40% of Americans have nearsightedness (myopia), which is the inability to see far off objects clearly, and the percentage is growing.

Sounds of Summer
Summer is also a popular time for sporting events and music concerts, which can lead to exposure to loud sounds. Crowd noise at some sporting events can exceed 90 decibels; music concerts can exceed 115 decibels. Prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 decibels may contribute to gradual hearing loss, so it is a good idea to use ear protection – such as earplugs or earmuffs – when seeing your favorite team or band. This type of protection is especially important for babies and children attending loud events, as young people’s hearing follicles are more easily damaged compared to those of adults.   

Likewise, extended listening to music or digital content through headphones or earbuds may damage hearing over time. To help prevent that, turn the volume on your electronic device to 60 percent or lower and listen for no longer than 60 minutes at a time. When using power tools or a lawn mower, never listen to earbuds.   

Considering these tips may help you focus on fun, friends and family during the summer, while helping maintain your eye and ear health – and as a result contribute to your overall health – now and in the future.