Back-to-school health: How heavy is your child’s backpack?

by Ramya Rajpurohit on September 17, 2014


As you begin to prepare for the new school year, consider how much weight will rest on your child’s shoulders. Millions of students in the United States carry backpacks overloaded with textbooks, sports equipment and more, to and from school. But the weight of the backpack and how it is worn could lead to back problems. If a backpack weighs more than 15 percent of a child’s body weight, it could induce back pain. Backpacks should weigh much less; additionally, they should be worn on both shoulders for equal weight distribution with the height falling two inches below the shoulder blades and sitting at waist level. Full story »

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PhoneAlexandra Schoening is a senior at Boston College and plans to pursue a career in Nursing. This summer, she got a sneak peak at her future profession when she interned at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Here, she shares five lessons she took away from the experience.

“Lub-dub” goes my heart.

We wake up each morning greeted by the day’s “to-do” list. Some days, the hours take their sweet time passing. Other days they fly by and, before you know it, it’s already tomorrow and you’re doing it all over again.

But if you stop to think about it, isn’t it amazing? That each day we wake up and live?

You may be thinking I’m crazy right about now, but if my internship in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Boston Children’s Hospital has taught me anything this summer, it is that we should be in constant awe of our ability to live.

Full story »

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What to know about Enterovirus D68

by Kipaya Kapiga on September 11, 2014

labBy now you’ve heard the news: a virus is sending more and more children to the hospital with coughing and breathing problems that are often severe. That virus is Enterovirus D68 and it’s just one strain of Enteroviruses, which cause colds, fever, headaches, vomiting and rashes among other symptoms. Most Enterovirus infections are common; they cause roughly 10 to 15 million infections every year.

D68 is an unusual strain, however.

Full story »

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Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving.

Meaghan_OKeeffe_1We all know that physical activity is an important aspect of our family’s health. An active lifestyle is linked with a number of benefits including:

  • increased bone strength
  • increased lean muscle mass
  • healthy weight
  • reduced anxiety and depression
  • improved mood
  • improved sleep
  • decreased risk of illness, such as cardiac disease and diabetes

But not every child is cut out for team or competitive sports. And that’s okay!

Your child can have fun, develop greater confidence and enjoy socialization without throwing a ball or running the 500-meter dash. Focus on variety and enjoyment to keep your child motivated to stay active long-term. Full story »

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Traveling 2,700 miles to save Jesus’s arm

by Tom Ulrich on September 9, 2014

20140203_Jesus-10When you talk to Jesus Barradas, he is like any other 16-year-old boy, into music, soccer, video games and television.

But when the Veracruz, Mexico native raises his left arm, you can see that something isn’t right. The forearm is much larger than his right. His left hand is swollen, the fingers curled into a near-permanent claw shape, and he holds it gingerly, almost cradling it protectively.

Jesus was born with a vascular malformation in his arm called FAVA (fibroadipose vascular anomaly), which keeps blood from draining properly out of the tissues of his forearm. It’s both physically and emotionally painful, and throughout his childhood, it became the source of endless taunting and ridicule.

For years, every doctor who saw Jesus said the only thing they could do was amputate his arm. But Jesus’s parents refused to believe this outcome was inevitable. They kept searching, talking to more doctors, seeking more opinions. Their search finally led them to Boston Children’s Vascular Anomalies Center (VAC), where surgeon Joseph Upton, MD, gave them the best option they’d had in years: hope.  Full story »

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Back in the game after stem cell transplant

by Guest Blogger on September 8, 2014

By Irene Sege

Behaylu Barry 009Some 100 days after receiving a stem cell transplant to cure his severe aplastic anemia, Behaylu Barry still couldn’t invite friends into his home. He wouldn’t be returning to school until January because his immune system needs the time to get strong enough to fight the pathogens present in indoor spaces. But 13-year-old Behaylu was doing so well that his doctor cleared him to play soccer – outdoors, of course — for the first time since February, when he was diagnosed with the life-threatening blood disorder shortly before he was to join the competitive soccer team that had just selected him.

So Behaylu recently walked on the field with his old traveling team, the Exeter (NH) Hawks, for a two-game pre-season tournament. The Hawks won, 4-1 and 6-1, with Behaylu, playing center midfield, scoring two assists in the first game, three in the second – and a goal in the second game with a head shot from the corner. His mother, Midori Kobayashi, cheered so much and so loudly that she lost her voice.

“Soccer is always pretty awesome,” Behaylu says. “This is the biggest step back to a normal life. One of them was swimming. One was hanging out with friends. Playing soccer is two steps. It’s one giant leap.”

“I know he pushed himself beyond his limits,” says his father, Aidan Barry. “But he’s 13. What do you do? Put him in a cage? It was a magical time for everyone.” Full story »

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Back-to-school health tips: What’s in your kid’s lunchbox?

by Ramya Rajpurohit on September 4, 2014

Your kids are heading back to school, which means you get a break from keeping an eye on them 24/7. You could be relieved, but you could also be a little worried: who knows what decisions your child will make in the absence of a parent’s watchful eye, especially when it comes to lunchtime. How can you ensure healthy eating habits for your kids when they head back to school?

David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital recently spoke to about quick and easy steps parents can take to pack healthy snacks and school lunches for children. Here are a few of the key points:

shutterstock_167098589Homemade is almost always healthier

School lunch may never have had a great reputation as far as nutrition goes, and things have only gotten worse over the years. Even when you discount obviously unhealthy choices like pizza and fries, hidden salt, artificial flavors and preservatives can tarnish even healthy options provided by many schools. “Almost anything a parent could provide will likely be better than what is served at school,” Ludwig said. “Encouragingly, some districts are aiming to improve the quality of school lunches through collaborations with local farmers, for example.”

Leftovers may get a bad rap, but with minimal effort they can often be turned into a quality lunch the following day.

“Lunches at our house usually involve some variant of what we had for dinner the night before,” Ludwig said. “Adding one new ingredient can make it seem like a whole new meal without much extra time in food preparation.”

A new take on an old favorite

PB&J has been a school lunch standard for decades. It’s a classic for a reason—kids love it. But when made with the wrong ingredients a peanut butter and jelly sandwich offers little more than empty calories. Ludwig suggests tweaking the ingredients to boost the nutritional value of the sandwich. “Use whole grain bread, trans-fat free peanut butter and how about using a 100 percent fruit spread instead of that sugary jelly,” he said. Apple slices can also be included for extra nutritional value.

shutterstock_183822224“Water” your kids drinking at school?

In elementary school science classes your child will learn that the surface of the earth and the human body are both mostly made up of water. Their beverage options while at school should be the same. “Water really needs to be the main beverage for children.” Ludwig says.

If water is deemed too boring by your child, try adding a twist of lemon or lime. In the morning try offering your child tea with a dash of honey, which still has much less sugar than the six or eight teaspoons found in cola or fruit drinks. “Chocolate milk is also a big problem,” Ludwig said. “Of course kids will prefer sugary milk to plain, but why provide that option if you don’t have to?”

Don’t fear all fats

Not all fats are unhealthy. Fats found in olive oil, avocado and nuts are among healthiest nutrients we can eat. And they don’t promote obesity. Plus, a low-glycemic diet that includes healthy fats can help kids stay full longer, which helps reduce gorging in late-afternoon. Adding avocado or guacamole as a spread on a sandwich is a great way to dress up a sandwich with good fats.

Use “stealth health” if you have to

Your child may have convinced herself that she hates certain good-for-you-foods. Rather than fighting—which can create unhealthy tension between you and your child around eating—a little subterfuge may be OK.

“There are many ways to use ‘stealth health,’” Ludwig said. “Most kid likes pasta, so add pureed spinach or zucchini into the tomato sauce. They won’t even recognize that they’re eating vegetables.”

Keep the kids involved

Because of their busy class and activity schedules, many students may feel like they don’t have much say in how their days are spent. Empower them by letting them play a key role in deciding what they’ll eat during lunch and snack time.

“There’s a simple rule: if kids help select it or cook it, they’ll eat it,” Ludwig said. “Give them a choice and involve them, but guide their choices We live in a fast food culture that tries to get everyone—especially children—to eat the lowest quality, highest calorie foods. Without guidance, kids are more likely to make bad choices.”

Snack healthy

Kids who come home from school very hungry are likely to eat more than they need when they first get in the door, so encourage them to eat a healthy snack between meals so they’ll be less likely to gorge after school.

“The worst time to make good decisions about food is when you’re starving,” says Ludwig. “Children who eat a poor quality breakfast or lunch may give in to temptation at school or on their walk home.” A handful of nuts, dried fruit, high quality trail mixes, or an apple and cheese all make healthy, easy to carry snacks to help your child ward off hunger mid-day.

shutterstock_135115418Read the school lunch menu together

For many parents, sending the kids to school with homemade snacks and lunches just isn’t an option. In these situations, Ludwig suggests parents and kids sit down and review the school’s lunch menu (often found online) to identify the healthy choices and to steer clear of unhealthy ones. Doing it together lets the child feel more involved in his food choices, and will teach him how to make healthy choices even if you’re not with him.

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Michael RichMichael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. (Visit their newly redesigned website here.) Send him a media-related parenting question via and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Q: My 6 year-old daughter’s class is opening a Facebook account. They are spinning it as an “exciting new way to expose 1st graders to social media” and to help them learn to use it responsibly at a young age. The class will post photos, news, and videos of the children, and parents and relatives can read and send messages back. Some of this will be followed in the classroom on a big TV screen. Is there any scientific information on how exposure to social media affects very young children? I worry that many children already get too much screen time, and I see no reason to promote or teach social media until they are much older. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for kids this age to learn how to play with and respect each other—in person? Or how about having parents come in and read a story or share a personal interest instead? Isn’t there value in keeping young children young?

-Face-off with Facebook, in San Francisco, CA Full story »

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