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For Your Health: Helping kids stay healthy this summer

For Your Health Graphic

Dr. Graham Colditz Headshot
Colditz

The strange times continue. After finally getting back to a semblance of pre-pandemic life in many parts of the country, we’re seeing safety orders extended or put back in place as the coronavirus shows just how formidable it is.

Children, thankfully, haven’t been as directly impacted by COVID-19 as adults. They can still get infected with the virus but will often show little or no sign of illness. Many children, though, have been affected in other important ways. Their daily lives have changed, and in a manner not always good for long-term health.

While much of this is out of our control, there are simple steps we as parents – or grandparents or guardians – can take to support the well-being of children in our lives, on top of those steps that also protect against the coronavirus.

While each of these was important before the pandemic hit, they are even more so now as our new normal is likely to continue for a while.

Try to reduce screen time. Even as economies have opened up, many of us are still spending more time at home than we normally would, especially during summertime. Streaming videos and playing on the phone can be a fun way for kids to fill that time. Keeping such screen time to a reasonable amount, though, can give kids the chance to move around more and explore other fun activities. That variety can be good for both their mental and physical health. General health recommendations are to keep screen time to two hours or less per day. That may not make sense during this time of pandemic, with all that kids and parents are going through. Any drop in the amount of screen time, though, is a good place to start.

Stock up on healthy snacks and keep them in the open. The in-person school day can provide healthy structure for children. When that goes away in summer, we know that some children’s eating and activity habits can change for the worse. And when many schools moved to remote at-home learning this March, those summer behaviors had time to take hold even earlier in the year. One way to help children build on healthy eating habits instead is to stock up on healthy snacks and keep them where they’re easy to find – on the counter, or at eye-level in the fridge or cupboard. Good options include fruit, cut-up vegetables, whole-grain cereals and crackers, low-salt nuts and fizzy water. And try to cut way back on the unhealthy snacks in the house. This includes things like sugary soda, energy drinks, chips, cookies and ice cream. If food security is ever an issue, contact your local food pantries or feedingamerica.org.

Try to be active every day. With safety orders in place and normal schedules upended – for children and parents – it can be harder than it used to be for kids to get their recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. That activity, though, can be very beneficial for children’s well-being. Try to think of ways to help get your children moving during the day. Have them come with you on your morning walk, follow along with an exercise video or go to a park to play soccer with friends – if it’s safe and allowed by health orders.

Make a plan to get back on schedule with vaccines. As the nation largely shut down this spring, health-care visits for childhood vaccinations plummeted. But as we’ve learned how to get patients back into hospitals and medical offices more safely, it’s a good time to contact your health-care provider or local health department to talk about getting back on track with your child’s vaccinations, so they’re protected against measles, mumps, HPV and other serious diseases.

Look after yourself. In normal times, parenting can be challenging. These days of coronavirus can make it even harder. So, it’s important that you take time to look after your own well-being. As parents, the better we feel, the more energy we can bring to caring for our children. The pandemic has affected people in many different ways, and if you need help, seek it out. A web search or call to your local health department or human resources office at work can be a good place to start.

It’s your family’s health. Take control.


Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention. As an epidemiologist and public health expert, he has a long-standing interest in the preventable causes of chronic disease. Colditz has a medical degree from The University of Queensland and a master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.