by Marilynn Preston
It was a recent Sunday morning, and I was exercising my brain in front of the morning news shows. This edition of "Meet the Press" featured Katherine Sebelius, our secretary of health and human services. She spent most of her time serving up lackluster answers about health care reform, but at the end of the segment, host David Gregory mentioned swine flu and the millions of kids at risk as they go back to school. He asked Sebelius how kids could best protect themselves.
Her answer gave me sharp, shooting pains. Kids have to wash their hands often, she said first familiar advice and absolutely essential. And then she advised them to sneeze into their sleeve instead of blowing the germs into the air.
Sneeze into their sleeves! This is a sickening back-to-school tip and does not reflect the current thinking among health care specialists who prefer children sneeze into ... what? Their jeans? Sneezing into their neighbor's hair has also been put forward as a way to keep your child healthier, and happier, but it is not what I am suggesting here.
Here are three more back-to-school tips for parents, who are, after all, their kids' No. 1 teachers when it comes to healthy lifestyle:
This semester, insist on a sport. Don't take klutz for an answer. There is a sport or physical activity for every girl and boy, and you get a gold star if you help your child discover what it is.
Look around. It may not be the obvious schoolyard stuff basketball, soccer ... God-forbid, football. One of my favorite youngsters lucked into a passion for Irish dancing. Another young man I know overweight and insecure, a miserable combo came to love his judo practice. As his strength and confidence grew, he lost the extra weight without even trying.
Your job as a parent is to teach your little one to try, try and try again, until she finds a sport or game that brings joy. Encourage participation and detach from results. Win or lose, playing sports builds character, teaches team play and gives a kid a perfectly good excuse for not smoking, drinking, snorting or sneezing into his shirt sleeve.
Don't cheat on breakfast and lunch. The research is in: Hearty and healthy breakfasts and lunches are basic to your child's performance in school.
The lesson here is simple: involve yourself in school food reform. It's one of the real success stories of the last 20 years new laws poised and ready to require schools to stop fattening our little ones with toxic food and drinks.
The change will take time to spread, but it is happening. If it's not happening for your kids, at your school, starting this semester, find out why.
In the meantime, reform your habits at home. Send your kids to school with lunches that nourish instead of numbify. And enforce the Eat Breakfast rule to the best of your ability. No excuses, no drama, no fake food. If you have reached this point in the article and do not know what a healthy breakfast consists of, time for you to hit the books.
Treat your child for MPA. Swine flu may come and go, but Mobile Phone Addiction is here to stay, I fear. It's especially dangerous to our little ones with thin skulls and vulnerable brains. In several European countries where the negative effects of mobile phone radiation are less hidden, parents are advised to restrict kids' cell phone use to emergencies. What if every cell phone had to carry a little sticker that read, "This Cell Phone May Cause Brain Cancer, Eye Cancer and Other Nasties"? Would parents stop buying them for their kids? Cut down their own use? It's a question for the final exam, that's for sure.