For several weeks, I have devoted this column to health promotion. Today, let's discuss preventive measures specifically aimed at children. As a father to three daughters, I have ample wisdom to impart about health care and prevention. Does that mean that they listen and act on what I tell them? Perhaps not…unless chocolate counts as one of the major food groups. Trust me; I understand the challenge here. Nonetheless, here are some guidelines for parents to help steer our children in the right direction. At least some of these measures are under our control!One of the first decisions a mother will make is whether to breast-feed. Assuming that it's feasible, nursing is always best - it's the most complete nutrition for the baby's development, and as an added benefit, passes on the mother's immunity. Parents can also ensure that the child has regular visits with the pediatrician, and that vaccinations are up to date. As the child grows and makes more of their own choices, one of the most difficult things to control is their diet. The reasons for this are many, including the simple facts that fast food and junk food can taste good, and sometimes due to convenience or cost, parents facilitate it. These foods are highly processed, and loaded with fats, sugar and salt. Take this opportunity to show your children, from an early age, the difference between nutritious natural foods and junk foods, snack foods, and fast foods. Did you know that a "Double Gulp" Coke at 7-Eleven contains 48 teaspoons of sugar? Teach your children to eat natural foods and not processed junk foods - and set a good example for them! Exercise has become a difficult challenge as well. With funding cuts, even P.E. has been eliminated from many schools. The television, computer and computer games have promoted a much more sedentary lifestyle. Exercise is not optional - it's an essential part of our children's early years, and for the rest of their life! Look at this as another golden opportunity for you to benefit: Participate in their exercise by taking them to the park, walking with them, or playing games with them. Enroll them in community sports activities from an early age. Remember that childhood obesity predisposes them to hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. Dental care is a critical component of your child's health. Teach them to clean their teeth twice every day, starting at an early age. In the beginning, they will need your supervision and direction, and it will be your responsibility to schedule regular dental visits. Discuss with your dentist whether fluoride is right for your child; it has been shown to reduce cavities by 40%. Hazards are a major health risk for children. Accidents kill 13,000 people a year, including 1,000 children. Poisoning, drowning, falls, burns, choking, suffocation, and cuts are the major causes of death. Some safety precautions come with common sense, and others have to be learned. Use smoke alarms properly, lock cabinets which contain poisons and medicine, avoid toys that can be choking hazards, keep knives out of reach, use care with scalding drinks, and never leave children unsupervised anywhere near water, whether it be a bath tub or pool. A parent knows that there are hazards everywhere. We hear the expression "little children, little problems, big children, big problems." As our children get older, their issues do get bigger. Teach them not to smoke. Your words will not be enough; 20% of adults still smoke. Look at living with children as your motivation to quit! Children exposed to second-hand smoke in the home have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, middle ear infections, respiratory tract infections, and asthma exacerbations. Alcohol is a major issue, beginning very early on: drinking nearly any quantity during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that leads to developmental and growth retardation. Again, it is not merely what you say to your children, but the example you set. Teach them that the regular consumption of alcohol can have many negative effects. Driving under the influence of alcohol is the major cause of fatal accidents on the road. Alcohol impairs judgment and may lead to children putting themselves in harm's way. Alcohol is a toxin to the liver, brain, heart, intestines, nerves, and other organ systems. As they get older, teaching them to consume in moderation may be appropriate, however in families where there is alcoholism, total abstinence is absolutely necessary. Those prone to alcohol addiction simply do not have the ability to stop at one drink. Even before your children leave for college or become independent, alcohol and drugs are a reality. At best, we have 18 years to introduce them to the values that they will carry away with them. How our children manage to survive and how we parents survive raising them is a total mystery to me. But it happens, generation after generation. Let us realize that we have a brief but wonderful opportunity to truly make a difference. May you not only survive the child-rearing years, but also truly enjoy the gift of parenthood. Good luck and good health to you all! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and current chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: February 12, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 43