Moffitt Cancer Center provides parents with back to school tips

August 14, 2009

Tampa, FLThe first week back to school is an exciting time for most children, but parents need to be aware of several risks. Experts from Moffitt Cancer Center offer advice to keep your kids healthy, safe and happy.

Backpack Safety and Computer Ergonomics: Christine Alvero, Moffitt’s manager of physical and occupational therapy, says heavy backpacks put children at risk for musculoskeletal injuries. She offers tips on how to safely carry them, as well as advice on proper form for doing schoolwork at the computer:

1. Put straps on both shoulders; don’t just sling it over one. Also, ensure that

   children wear their backpack on mid-back, hanging no lower than four inches

   below their waistlines.

            2. A backpack shouldn’t be so heavy that the body leans forward to support it.                    If it is, take out some items.

            3. Backpacks should not be heavier than 10 percent of a person’s body weight.

            4. Computer screens should be at eye level to reduce neck strain.

            5. When typing on the keyboard, keep elbows parallel to the floor to reduce

   wrist strain.

6. Take frequent stretch breaks; don’t sit at the computer for longer than 30    

   minutes at a time. Prolonged static postures set the body up for strain and pain;

   get up, march in place, stretch your neck, back, shoulders and wrists.

7. Feet should be flat on the floor and knees should be at a 90 degree angle; this

   may mean using a stool or other object under the feet if a child is at an adult

   work station.

Food and Nutrition: With the added stress of sports and after school activities, it can be difficult for parents to find quick and easy meals that are also nutritious. Kathryn Allen, MA, RD, CSO, director of nutrition therapy at Moffitt, offers tips on proper nutrition and hydration in order to handle stress and maintain optimal physical and academic performance.

  1. Fill small resealable bags with dry cereal for a quick grab-and-go breakfast.
  2. Fruits make great after school snacks. Wash a variety of fruits, keep them in a bowl on the counter and watch them disappear.
  3. Plan a weeks worth of menus for quick, easy and healthy dinners and post the menu on the refrigerator. Make sure all ingredients are available. This helps eliminate last minute choices and stops at fast food restaurants. The after school/dinner hours can be the most stressful times of the day. Planning ahead can make a huge difference.
  4. Avoid making the dinner table a battlefield. This should be a relaxing time for bonding, not coercion to eat or try a new food. Make bread, rolls, crackers and fruit a staple at every meal. Even if children won’t eat the main course, they will have something to please their palate.
  5. Sports can use up a lot of time and energy for parents and kids. Keep convenient, nutrient dense foods stocked in the pantry and refrigerator. Some examples are peanuts, pistachio nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, dried fruits, string cheese, yogurt, yogurt drinks, whole grain crackers, fruit cups, juice (real juice, not juice drinks), granola bars, baby carrots, sliced turkey, canned tuna or chicken.
  6. Keep small bottles of water on hand for lunches. Don’t buy soft drinks, as most offer very little nutritional value and should not take the place of high quality foods and beverages. Lack of proper hydration can lead to fatigue, crankiness and a decreased ability to concentrate – this is true for kids and adults.
  7. Involve the kids in meal preparation as much as possible. Not only will they have fun and feel a sense of pride in the end product but they will also learn valuable life skills. It is also a great time to catch up on the events of the day. Even little ones can help set the table, wash veggies and put ingredients together.
  8. Encourage kids to pack their own lunches. You provide the basic ingredients and let them choose – they are more likely to eat it if they make the selections. This also takes the burden from parents who can be taking care of other end-of-the-day chores.
  9. Plan to have snacks available at the end of the school day -- just like adults, kids need to unwind and recharge at the end of a long day. This will help homework time go a lot more smoothly.
  10. Drag out the crock pot and look up some recipes online – having a meal that basically cooks itself can be a great time saver and stress reducer.
  11. Keep veggie crumbles in the freezer. These can be added to spaghetti sauce with no precooking for a very quick family meal that is high in protein.
  12. Go green this year with reusable containers and aluminum water bottles – this can help you save money and the environment.

Sun Safety: According to Dr. Vernon Sondak, program leader of the Cutaneous Oncology Program, 80 percent of a person’s entire lifetime of sun exposure occurs before 18 years, meaning most sun damage occurs during youth. Sondak says no matter how careful you are as an adult; you can't undo the damage you did as a kid. To prevent this, he advises that children wear sunscreen every day, rain or shine. A waterproof sunscreen that protects against UV-A and UV-B rays is the most effective. Review the school’s policy related to use of hats and sunglasses. If hats and glasses are allowed, send them with youngsters to wear while outside. Talk to children about safe sun practices and remind them to choose shaded areas for play if they are available. Sondak provides tips about sun exposure, which should be followed every day.

  1. Apply sunscreen to children about 30 minutes ahead of time whenever they will be in the sun. Don’t forget lips, hands, ears, feet, shoulders and behind the neck.
  2. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply often, approximately every two to three hours, as the American Academy of Dermatology recommends.
  3. When outside, wear a wide brim hat to protect face, ears and neck.
  4. Wear sunglasses with labels ensuring 100 percent UV protection.
  5. Avoid being in the sun for prolonged times during peak UV hours (normally from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.).
  6. Report any odd or suspicious looking moles to a pediatrician.

Infection Protection: Stacy Martin, RN, BSN, CIC, supervisor of Infection Prevention and Control, says proper hand hygiene is the most important method for infection protection. Martin advises scrubbing with soap and water for 15 seconds or using alcohol based hand gels. Children should keep small containers of hand sanitizers with them, but should also be instructed on how to use them properly. When a hand washing station or tissue is unavailable, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend coughing or sneezing into a shirt sleeve rather than contaminating hands and spreading germs. Vaccinations are among the top 10 most important public health achievements in the United States, contributing to better overall health and increased life expectancy. Most schools require vaccinations prior to school starting, and a pediatrician can provide a recommended vaccination schedule. Martin recommends children receive flu shots in addition to required vaccinations. The CDC warns parents never to give children or teenagers who they believe have the flu aspirin or medicine with aspirin as an ingredient. Children should not return to school or any other group setting until their temperature and symptoms have been normal for at least 24 hours.

About H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute

Located in Tampa, Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center  is an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - a designation that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research and contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt currently has 15 affiliates in Florida, one in Georgia and two in Puerto Rico. Additionally, Moffitt is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a prestigious alliance of the country’s leading cancer centers, and is listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for cancer. Moffitt’s sole mission is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.