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Healthy children require proactive parents

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. William Powell
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Eating an apple a day doesn't always keep the doctor away, despite the contradictory age-old adage. This is especially true in children from birth to early adolescence, an age group with especially high illness rates.

Children carry many viruses because they often share food and drinks with other children, and they don't wash their hands often enough, said Maj. Tamara Hall, 325th Medical Operations Squadron pediatrics flight commander and nurse practitioner.

Fortunately, she said, parents can help reduce the likelihood of their children getting sick by following a few simple tips.

"Try to keep young children away from crowds as much as possible," Major Hall said, since children's immature immunity systems are weak against viruses. "Also, teach your children as young as possible to wash their hands. A good time to start is after you change your baby's diaper. Wash yours and your child's hands. That way, by the time they reach preschool age, they're used to using the bathroom and washing their hands."

Children also need a nutritious diet and plenty of exercise to remain healthy, said Senior Master Sgt. Ronald Hagen, 325th Aeromedical-Dental Squadron certified dietary manager.

"Children should eat six servings of whole grain products, three to five servings of fruits and vegetables, three servings of dairy products and 5 ounces of lean protein each day," Sergeant Hagen said.

However, most children don't receive these recommended daily servings because of the availability and popularity of high-sugar, high-fat and high-sodium foods that are found in most fast food items and pre-packaged frozen meals.

Sergeant Hagen recommends looking closely at food ingredients at the grocery store and restaurant, preparing quick and healthy recipes at home rather than eating fast food, and exercising - both children and adults. Families can also attend classes or individual instruction on weight management and fitness at any base Health and Wellness Center.

"For many, nutrition and fitness can be a perfect opportunity to get the whole family involved in decision making," he said.

Eating healthy, exercising and washing hands frequently are excellent ways to proactively maintain good health in children and adults, but parents also need to schedule routine wellness visits with a physician for "preventative maintenance." Newborns need a wellness visit at the two-week, two-month, four-month, six-month, one-year and 18-month date after birth. Beginning at age 2, children should receive an annual wellness visit near their birthday until they turn 18, Major Hall said.

Unfortunately, these tips won't cure or prevent all illnesses, and children are likely to pick up between eight to 12 viruses every year if they are in day care, preschool or kindergarten, the major said.

And even though some parents mean well when they give prescription medication to their sick children, if the medication hasn't been prescribed specifically for that child, they could be doing more harm than good, she said.

"Antibiotics are wonderful for treating bacterial illnesses, but the vast majority of illnesses children get are caused by viruses," said Major Hall. "So giving them an antibiotic may not get them better any faster, but it could cause a severe allergic reaction, cause more antibiotic-resistant bacteria to form, or give them an overdose because children prescriptions are based on how much they weigh that day. It's much safer to give them a correct dosage of over-the-counter medication until the child is seen by a doctor."

However, unless a sick child is under 3 years old, has a fever of 103 degrees or above, has difficulty breathing or has had cold symptoms for more than two weeks without getting better, the child won't normally need to be seen by a doctor, the major said.

"The vast majority of children we see have typical viral common-cold symptoms, and although we would love to make them better, there are no medications to kill the viruses," she said. "Their bodies have to do it all by themselves, but over-the-counter medicine for children ages 2 and up can help them feel less miserable."

Parents of a sick child can call their local Tricare appointment line to speak with a triage nurse for advice. For more information about diet and nutrition, people should contact their local base HAWC.