Get a Healthy Back-to-school Start

Written By:Stacy Simon
kids line up with backpacks and lunchboxes as their school bus drives up

Put health on the list as you get your kids ready to go back to school this year. Getting recommended vaccinations on time, eating a healthy lunch each day, and sleeping enough each night will help children and teens succeed in the classroom. Get started with our expert advice.

Vaccinations prevent diseases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says vaccinations have prevented countless cases of infections and diseases and have saved millions of lives. However, outbreaks of preventable diseases still happen. Getting your child’s vaccinations on time helps protect your child and your communities and schools from outbreaks.

A vaccine reduces the risk of infection by working with the immune system to develop a defense against a specific disease before a person is exposed to that disease. According to the CDC, children newborn through age 6 need vaccines to protect them from 14 serious diseases, including measles, polio, tetanus, and chicken pox. And all children 6 months and older should be vaccinated against flu. Children and teens ages 7 to 18 need booster shots because some vaccine doses wear off over time. Older children, teens, and young adults may also be more at risk for certain diseases like meningitis and need the protection vaccines provide. Check with your child’s doctor to be sure.

Girls and boys should be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) at age 11 or 12. Infection with HPV is very common, and 4 of 5 people will get it at some point in their lives. The HPV vaccine requires 2-3 shots, depending on the age when it is started. Your child can start getting vaccinated as early as age 9. It is best to complete the series by your child's 13th birthday. The body develops better protection against HPV at this age than in the late teens and early 20s. Infection with HPV is very common, and 4 of 5 people will get it at some point in their lives. The HPV vaccine can help reduce the risk of 6 different types of cancer, but it works best if it is given before exposure to HPV occurs.

A healthier lunchbox

The new school year is the perfect time to try some healthier options in your child’s lunch box. By packing your kids’ lunches, you can ensure what they’re eating is healthy and tastes good. Eating lots of different kinds of food gives the body a variety of nutrients.

  • Choose lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Healthy eating includes a lot of colors, like green salad, orange carrots, and red strawberries, and it makes lunch more appealing.
  • Pack water, 100% fruit juice, or plain low-fat or skim milk to drink. Sports drinks and juice drinks have added sugar and a lot more calories.
  • Whole wheat and multi-grain are much healthier than the refined grains found in white bread, cereals, and pasta. Brown rice is also a good choice.
  • Choose a variety of foods that contain proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. For example, try lean meats, cheese, whole-wheat crackers, peanut butter, hummus, and low-sugar yogurt.
  • Kids need some fat in their diet, but fried foods have high amounts of fat, especially the bad type of fats. Try healthier options like grilled chicken or baked chips.

Sleep help for teens

If your teenager has trouble waking up for school in the morning and is grumpy during the day, it may be more than just typical teen behavior. They may not be getting enough sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation says most teens are not getting the sleep they need to function best: 8 to 10 hours each night.

Teenagers who do get enough sleep have been shown to get better grades in school, have a lower body mass index (BMI), and suffer less from depression and thoughts of suicide. They also report feeling happier and getting along better with family members.

Teenagers who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to become drowsy while driving, which is extremely dangerous for themselves and others.

To help your teenager get more sleep at night, you can:

  • Set a consistent bedtime, even on weekends.
  • Keep computers, gaming systems, cell phones, and TV out of your teen’s bedroom.
  • Cut out caffeine after lunchtime.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine that includes reading, listening to music, or taking a bath.
  • Be a good role model by getting enough sleep yourself.
  • Talk to your teen about the importance of sleep.

If your teenager complains about difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and home remedies have not helped, discuss the problem with your family doctor.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Cancer Society news stories are copyrighted material and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.