9a-back-to-school-health-engThe ABCs on Back to School Health

Here are the ABCs to ensuring your little one (or, not so ‘little’ one) stays healthy this school year and comes home with all the answers.

A) Lights Out

There is a surprisingly large body of evidence supporting the widely held belief that not getting enough sleep increases your likelihood of getting sick. In a 2013 report in the Pediatric Infections Disease Journal, both animal and human studies have shown that sleep deprivation has detrimental effects on the immune system and may be linked to an increase risk of obesity and heart disease. How much sleep does your kid need?

Research shows that not getting enough sleep increases the likelihood of getting sick. Children need about 10 hours of sleep a night, and adolescents about 8.5 hours. Answer: Earlier bedtimes for healthier kids.

B) Get Outside

Playing outside provides kids with the opportunity to exercise, explore nature and reduce stress: numerous studies on children and adults link activity in green space with lower levels of stress. Plus, getting outside offers the body needed vitamin D. According to a study in Autoimmunity Review, vitamin D supplementation, or sensible sunlight exposure, seems to be protective against infectious diseases. Answer: Kids need 60 minutes of exercise a day – try getting it outside.

C) Scrub-a-Dub-Dub

Good personal hygiene can stop microbes that cause snotty noses and upset tummies from gaining access to your kids’ bodies. Answer: Start routines of washing hands when changing activities; try singing a fun song while hand washing to promote sufficient scrubbing time. And, to prevent skin irritation avoid using “dirty” personal care products (e.g. contain fragrance, sulphates, parabens).

D) Un-Junk Their Food

When shopping with a kid, parents spend 60% more at the supermarket. According to research from the Berkeley Media Studies Group, children are vulnerable to forming long-lasting emotional connections to brands. The scary part is this emotional connection with junk food is occurring at a time when children and adolescents are establishing life-long eating behaviour patterns. Answer: Teach kids the importance of healthy eating choices while shopping.

E) Healthy Eating Starts At Home

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Obesity increases our children’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and arthritis. Healthy eating habits are established early in life. Answer: Start at home by offering your kids lots of fresh whole foods, and lead by example.

F) Healthy Lunches Your Kid Will Actually Eats

A healthy lunch is one that fuels both their body and mind. Protein is an important building block in young bodies and helps make kids feel satiated and energized: try hard-boiled eggs, hummus or a bean salad. Omega-3s promotes healthy eyes and brains: try flax seed oil instead of canola, or seeds in their lunch boxes. How do you make a lunch your kids will eat? Answer: You don’t – you get your kids to make their lunch. Kids who are allowed to make choices about what’s in their lunch are more likely to eat it.

G) Snacks to Fuel Superheroes and Divas

Little, fun, reusable containers packed with trail mix, little cubes of cheese or cut up cantaloupe, baby carrots or bell peppers are irresistible to hungry kids at lunch or for a snack after school. Stock up on reusable containers your kids will love, fill them up and store them in the fridge so hungry kids can find a healthy snack quickly. Answer: Helping kids eat healthy is as easy as making healthy food easy to find and fun to eat.

Tips to Avoid Getting Sick this School Year:

  • Catch lots of Zzzs
  • Snack on fruit, vegetables, nuts & seeds
  • Stay hydrated
  • Keep junk food to the occasional treat
  • Wash your hands
  • Get help from nutrients like probiotics, omega-3s, vitamin C & zinc

Visit healthfirst.ca for a complete children’s guide to supplements.

The Healthy, Healthier Lunch-Box Swap:

Want to make their lunch boxes a little healthier? Try these swaps to increase the nutritional value of their lunches.

Healthy                                                              Healthier

Whole Wheat Bread Sprouted Grain Bread
Flavoured Yogurt Plain Yogurt with Fresh Fruit
Processed Turkey Chicken breast cut into strips
Lettuce Sprouts
Pasta Salad Quinoa Salad with Beans & Hemp Seeds

Written by Allison Tannis BSc MSc RHN is a nutritional expert, author and lunch-box chef for two little ones. Read more from her at allisontannis.com.


Vitamin D effects on musculoskeletal health, immunity, autoimmunity cardiovascular disease, cancer, fertility, pregnancy, dementia and mortality – a review of recent evidence. Autoimmunity Reviews August 2013; 12(10):976-898
Sleep and Infection: No Snooze, You Lose? Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, October 2013; 32(10):1135-1137.
Shields M. Measured obesity: overweight Canadian children and adolescents. In: Nutrition: findings from the Canadian Community Health Survey; issue 1; 2005 (cat no 82-620-MWE2005001). Available: www.statcan.ca/english/research/82-620-MIE/2005001/pdf/cobesity.pdf
Article – The New Age of Food Marketing, BMSG – October 1, 2011
Statistics Canada
Wells, NM and GW Evans. Nearby Nature: a buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behaviour May 2003;35(3):311-330.
Aspinall P, et al. The urban brain: analyzing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG. Br J Sports Med 2013 Mar 6.