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Health & Parenting

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Back-to-School Health Checklist

Experts say how to keep your child on the right track to health this school year.

Tests and Services the School May Perform

Some schools are sending home "weight report cards," advising parents how to deal with childhood obesity. Mac Donald's district does color testing, especially in boys, in the early elementary years. Hearing tests are performed in kindergarten, second grade, fifth grade, eighth grade, 10th grade, and in special education, too.

Scoliosis screens may also be given to see if your child's spine is growing according to plan. Does your child have a shoulder or hip higher than the other? This can be picked up. "The spine can curve so much it puts pressure on the heart," Mac Donald says.

Children also are worked up to see if they could benefit from special education. "Many of our children had parents who used drugs or alcohol and their nervous systems were affected," Mac Donald says. "They need special training and treatment."

The school may also give health training. "I think that would be good," Santesteban says.

What Else Can Parents Do?

"The school said to be sure the kids wore closed-toe shoes," Santesteban says. The American Academy of Pediatrics also advises that parents not strap a jumbo backpack on their children -- never more than 20% of the child's body weight (those books can add up). Some children even prefer a rolling backpack like the wheeled suitcase their parents take on business trips. Make sure the backpack has wide straps and a padded back.

If children are hanging back or seem anxious about the first day, explain that their friends are waiting to see them again. Maybe another child in the neighborhood could come along the first day.

Be sure you have arrangements for after-school, too.

Parents must also be sure the child has sufficient sleep, usually eight hours for a growing child and even more for a teen. And the child should go off with a good breakfast. Sometimes kids can eat at school, too, but nutrition helps the child to focus and concentrate.

"Actually, that's something the schools could do better," Santesteban says. "Serve better food. Some of the stuff is nasty and cheap, like deep-fried pancakes on a stick. My son doesn't eat breakfast at school, but he would like to, for that very reason."

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