Eating healthier and exercising more often top the list of goals that many of us would like to accomplish during a new year. If you're like-minded and happen to be a parent, make sure to extend worthwhile goals like these and others to your entire family, especially your children.
Your children’s health is often a reflection of what you’re doing and not doing at home. Your child’s pediatrician is always ready to help if you have any concerns or need any advice regarding their health and well-being.
Parents routinely raise concerns about their children’s health with their pediatrician. It could be about their children’s diets and nutrition. It could be about their children’s mental health. Whatever the issue is, pediatricians have heard them all and can offer timely advice.
Learn more about frequently raised issues about children's health and how to address them.
With so many different messages about nutrition, it can be confusing for parents to know what to feed their kids every day. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a broad, whole-diet approach to nutrition, avoiding highly processed foods and using small amounts of sugar, salt, fats and oils. Serve high-quality protein, such as:
- Lean meats
- Vegetables; fruits; grains; and low-fat dairy
Most children and teens need to eat every three to four hours throughout the day to meet current daily nutritional guidelines. Younger children need to eat three meals and at least two healthy snacks, while older kids need to eat three meals and at least one snack a day.
“Eating while on the go or while distracted by TV, phones and tablets may result in less healthful choices and portions,” explains Jenny Davis, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo. “Mindful eating of healthy snacks can be helpful in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and fostering good eating habits for the entire family.”
Dr. Davis recommends aiming for a more structured eating schedule, with mid-morning and after-school snacks, and serving healthy items, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat Greek yogurt.
The AAP updated its guidelines on television and digital media use for children and teens in October 2016, noting that children were spending an average of seven hours a day on screen media. While the AAP recommends specific guidelines for different age groups, they advocate that parents should act as media mentors no matter the age of their children.
“Parents need to act as teachers and guides for their children on how best to use media,” says Mackenzie Coffin, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley. “Teach them how to navigate media, set expectations and boundaries and make sure screen time doesn’t take the place of physical activity and social interaction in the real world."
Studies show that major depression is on the rise in adolescents, particularly among girls.
Parents can help by:
- Talking with your teen frequently
- Offering support by letting your teen know that you are there and willing to provide support
- Confirming your teen’s feelings
If you suspect that your teen is suffering from anxiety or depression, talk with your pediatrician.
“Concerns about vaccine safety are still causing parents in the United States to delay some vaccines for their children,” says Gurinder Dabhia, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo. “Vaccines are one of the best ways to ensure your child stays healthy, and the reason so many shots are given so close together is that this is when your children are most vulnerable to dangerous diseases.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) official vaccination schedule targets 14 serious diseases, including whooping cough and polio. The goal is to keep children as safe as possible until they are fully protected. According to the AAP, there is no safe way to adjust the schedule and know that your child will be safe from potentially life-threatening infections.
Talk with your pediatrician if you have questions or concerns.
According to the CDC, the incidence of obesity among children and adolescents has tripled since the 1970s. The most current data shows that nearly one in five school-age children and young people aged 6 to 19 in the US is obese.
Obesity can cause a broad range of health problems, such as asthma, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. In addition, children who are obese are more apt to experience a negative body image, depression and low self-esteem.
“As parents and caregivers, you can help prevent your children from becoming obese,” says Dr. Coffin. “Encourage healthy eating habits by being a role model, cook healthy meals with your family, help your kids stay active and remove calorie-rich snacks and treats.”
With more young children focusing on a single sport and playing all year, pediatricians are seeing more chronic overuse injuries. The AAP encourages a balanced approach to sports, especially before puberty. Growing bones are less resilient to stress, and young athletes may not recognize that certain symptoms are signs of overuse.
“Keep your child’s practice fun and age-appropriate,” says Daniel Lichtmann, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley. “If you suspect your child may be susceptible to overuse injuries, plan to have your children have at least one day off per week and at least one month off per year from training for one sport. These breaks will allow the body to recover.”