Stories about: Back to school

Back-to-school health: Avoiding backpack induced back pain

Do you know how much your child’s backpack weighs? If it’s more than 15 percent of his or her body weight, then it could hurt your child’s back. Millions of students in the United States carry backpacks to and from school, often overloaded with books, sports equipment and more. Weight of the backpack isn’t the only issue; how the bag is worn can also lead to back problems. Backpacks should be worn on both shoulders for equal weight distribution, and the height should fall two inches below the shoulder blades and sit at waist level.

Pierre d’Hemencourt, MD, of Boston Children’s Division of Sports Medicine, answers a few questions about children and backpack safety.

Can heavy backpacks really cause back problems for my child?

This issue is a bit controversial because there’s no specific proof heavy backpacks are a direct cause of back problems. During adolescence kids are going through growth spurts and so their bones and posture are susceptible to many things, from sport injury to lugging overly heavy backpacks. However, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Physical Therapy Association have set out guidelines that should be used with backpacks to reduce the risks associated with them.

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Back-to-school health: heading off to college with a chronic illness

Written by Kitty O’Hare, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital’s director of Transition Medicine for Primary Care.

It’s late summer and in my office there’s a sudden flurry of activity from students hurrying to get sports physicals and vaccines before heading off to college. Everyone is nervous about their new roommates, their class schedules and whether they will be homesick. But for some of my patients, going to college is especially nerve-wracking because it will be their first time living away from home with a chronic disease.

I deal with teen health daily. I care for a lot of adolescents and young adults with chronic disease, everything from asthma to diabetes to congenital heart defects. As my patients grow up they have a lot to deal with because of medical issues: taking medicine, extra doctors’ appointments, extra vaccinations, missing school (or fun stuff). Most of them have help and support from their family and friends. And they know that their primary care doctor (me) is available to support them. But when they leave for college their support network stays at home, and that can be scary.Sometimes they even have to change primary care doctors. They have to think about how their choices in college affect their health, like if they start smoking with friends at parties, will their asthma get worse?  As pediatricians, we try to prepare our patients far in advance for the transition to this first stage of adulthood. Here are the top 10 teen health tips for new college students transitioning their care:

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Back-to-school health: Avoiding September asthma flare-ups

By Andrew MacGinnitie, MD, PhD, associate clinical director of the Division of Immunology at Children’s Hospital Boston

The onset of fall means shorter days, the closing of summer camps and, this year, a less-than-triumphant winding down of the Red Sox’s season. It’s also back-to-school time for thousands of families. For most people this means stocking up on new clothes and school supplies, but for families of children with asthma, September also marks the start of the fall asthma epidemic. Each year the number of children with asthma rushed to emergency departments and admitted to hospitals spikes a few weeks after school starts.

So what’s causing this annual epidemic? Most often it’s the sharing of viral infections—rhinovirus in particular—that spread much more easily when children are cooped up together in classrooms. Typically rhinovirus will cause common cold symptoms, but in children with asthma, infection can spread to the lungs and trigger a severe asthma attack. Kids also tend to spend more time outside in the summer, and sunlight acts as a natural disinfectant for many germs.

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September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

ChildCancerRibbonMagnetBy Kendal Temple, RN, a nurse in Children’s Hematology/Oncology Program

After a long absence due to cancer, it can be hard for young patients to return to school–especially if they look different or can’t play the way they used to. Although most of the time they’re thrilled to be going back to school and seeing their friends, many children are also nervous. To help these kids during the transition, Children’s developed the Back to School program. A nurse and a Child Life specialist visit the patient’s school and educate the classmates on what the patient has been going through. By creating a place where classmates can ask questions and air concerns, these visits help alleviate anxiety and encourage the sensitivity of everyone at school.

This past year, I worked with RJ Agostinelli, a vivacious young man who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, at age 11. He missed seven months of elementary school while having chemotherapy.

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