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The Doctors: Children's Health
The Doctors: Children's Health: As a parent, keeping your little (and big) kids safe and healthy is your top priority. Here are nine strategies to help you do your job — and do it well — based on the latest science and research.
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You always double-check their seat belts before pulling out of the driveway, take them to the doctor when they’re under the weather, force them to wear that helmet when they ride their bikes, and you’ll no doubt make a valiant effort to ration the candy they will soon collect. As a parent, keeping your little (and big) kids safe and healthy is your top priority. Here are nine strategies to help you do your job — and do it well — based on the latest science and research:

Switch to low-fat milk.

One cup of whole milk contains 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 150 calories; the same amount of 1% milk has 1.5 grams and about 100 calories. For kids over age 2, opting for the low-fat version cuts unnecessary fat and calories from their diet but still provides the calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients needed to build healthy bones. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that only about 20% of kids who drink milk choose 1% or skim.

Enforce the 20-20-20 eye rule.

According to a recent survey from the American Optometric Association, more than 60% of parents estimate their child spends up to four hours doing something electronic-y every day. Teach yours to take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at something about 20 feet away. That can help protect their peepers from computer vision syndrome — a condition in which the prolonged use of digital devices causes eyestrain, headaches, loss of focus and blurred or double vision. Following the 20-20-20 rule gives eyes a rest, keeps them moist and prevents them from locking into a close-up position.

Say yes to the flu shot.

This season’s shot protects against the same three viruses as last season, but even if your little one got the vaccine last year, he still needs one now. That’s because immunity can drop by up to 50% six to 12 months after vaccination. The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids 6 months through 8 years old need only one dose of this year’s vaccine if they got at least one shot last season; if they didn’t get any last year, they need two doses. Research shows children under age 3 receive roughly the same protection from two doses of vaccine regardless of which method — injection, nasal spray or one of each — is used; getting at least one dose via nasal spray may offer broader protection against different flu strains. Talk to your pediatrician to determine a plan that’s right for your child.

Take out less often.

About 20% of all children are obese, and to-go food is fueling that epidemic, says a new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Researchers from the University of North Carolina surveyed nearly 30,000 children ages 2 through 18 over the course of almost 30 years and found that nearly one-third of food eaten is cooked outside the home — in supermarkets, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. Those meals are typically high in sugar, salt, fat and calories, and their popularity means kids are getting more calories than they need.

Take back control of the remote.

Two recent studies published in the journal Pediatrics found that fast-paced and slapstick cartoons could hinder a child’s concentration and sleep. Researchers at the University of Virginia had one group of 4-year-olds watch SpongeBob SquarePants for nine minutes, another group watch the slower-paced cartoon Caillou and a third group spend the time drawing. The SpongeBob kids did significantly worse on concentration, memory and learning tests than the other two groups; the frantic pace may be too taxing on developing brains, scientists say. Another study out of Seattle found that toddlers who watch violent shows any time during the day had sleep troubles at night.

Know the signs of cyberbullying.

Harassment can happen through e-mail, social sites and texts — and it happens a lot: Forty-three percent of teens have been victims of online abuse in the past year, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Bullying has serious and lasting effects, from depression and anxiety to even thoughts of suicide. Talk to your teen if you notice any of the following: acting distressed after being on the Internet, withdrawing from social activities or friendships, avoiding parties or not wanting to go to school, seeing grades fall or showing changes in behavior, mood, appetite or sleep patterns.

Toss the brown bag.

Researchers in Texas measured the temperature of more than 700 preschoolers’ sack lunches about an hour and a half before eating time. Researchers found that even in the bags with ice packs, less than 2% of the meals that contained perishable items — such as meat and cheese sandwiches — were in a safe temperature zone; more than 90% were kept at unsafe temperatures. Stored in too-warm containers, bacteria can multiply and make foodborne illness more likely. Your best bet: Toss a frozen gel pack in an insulated lunchbox, or pack foods that don’t need refrigeration, such as peanut butter, whole fruits, canned fish and crackers.

Encourage frequent hand-washing.

Scientists in Denmark found that students who were given a lesson in disinfecting their hands decreased their number of sick days. The right way to wash: Rub hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, or the time it takes to hum the Happy Birthday song twice.

Protect your meds.

More kids are showing up in hospital emergency rooms because of accidental poisonings, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Prescription drugs were involved in 55% of emergency visits, 76% of hospitalizations and 71% of significant injuries. Don’t keep pills in your purse or within kids’ reach; store meds in their original containers and stash them in locked cabinets.

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The Doctors

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check for local listings.