Back to school tips for a healthy start from DHA

Nutrition, hygiene, physical exercise and the backpack were discussed by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) on Twitter this week

In the spirit of the back-to-school season, health tips for school children and their parents were the theme of this week’s Twitter clinic of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

Wafa Ayesh, Director of Clinical Nutrition at the DHA, Mariam Al Shamsi, Head of the Nutrition Education Unit at the DHA and Soha Noufal, Head of the Nutrition Unit at the Dubai Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Centre sat down behind the screen and gave handy tips about a variety of health-related topics.

Food tips

The nutritionists raised the importance of the healthy lunch box, tipping that the more colourful, the more nutritious the package is.

“One of the most important ways to encourage healthy eating patterns is to educate children about food and to take into account their likes and dislikes.

“An innovative menu every week that has been planned and reviewed with your children will make lunch boxes more fun. Taking them grocery shopping is a good activity and will create positive reaffirmation towards food,” said Al Shamsi.

Ayesh suggested ways to keep the lunch box as fresh as possible. “I would highly recommend that parents use frozen icepacks while sending perishable food items to school so that food does not get spoilt. This is extremely important because of the hot climate we live in,” she said.

For young children, parents also need to be cautious of choking hazards and pack food accordingly,” added Ayesh.

Apart from the lunchbox, it is important to provide children with high energy snacks, especially if they stay back for after school activities, urged Al Shamsi. “High energy snacks  include whole-grain crackers, cheese, juices without sugar etc.

Further, a healthy breakfast is essential she added. “Studies show that breakfast eaters tend to have higher school attendance. It is important to encourage them to have a sit-down nutritious breakfast every morning, even if this means waking up earlier. Breakfast on-the-go is a habit that should be discouraged.”

Hygiene matters

Mingling with thousands of children in small areas always carries a risk, which every parent will notice with the outbreak of periodic viruses like the flu. There are certain precautions that can be taken to reduce these risks.

“Once school begins, children will pick up infections. Encouraging hand hygiene is one of the best ways to minimize this risk. Children must learn to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before eating.

“Moreover, parents should not send their sick child to school as their child needs rest and it prevents spreading infection among other school children,” stressed Ayesh.

She also focused on the need to ensure that children’s vaccinations are up-to-date and that they are vaccinated against diseases such as chicken-pox, which is highly infectious and leads to long absenteeism.

Addressing the issue of oral hygiene, she said: “The rate of caries is high in this region. So,  after your  child eats a sugary food, they should gargle at school. If they don’t, ask them to eat a cucumber or carrot or drink water to prevent teeth decay.”

The school bag

Heavy school bags are often a thorn in the eye of the parent, who sees the child off with a weight on the shoulders that can hardly be good for the body.

These concerns are not unjustified, argues Noufal. “One of the fundamental mistakes school children make is carrying heavy school bags. Some of them even carry it on one shoulder; this tilts the spine and ruins the posture.

“The rule of thumb is that your child’s school bag should not be more than 10 per cent of your child’s body weight,” states Noufal. “Parents should also sit with their children and clear out unwanted items from  school bags and non-essential items can be kept in the school locker.”

Physical exercise

Essential to any healthy lifestyle is physical exercise, and this is not less true for young children. In school, physical exercise is part of the curriculum. But after school parents should set the example by preaching what they claim, believes Noufal.

“It is a known fact that children imitate their parents, so as the new academic year begins, it is time for parents to set good examples by exercising themselves. Families can take part in exercise activities together, this helps create a positive association towards exercise and well-being.”

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