Newswise — Parents are buying backpacks, pencils and notebooks, but there is a lot more than just school supplies needed to prepare for the return to school this fall.  Studies show healthy kids learn better, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes learning by encouraging healthy eating and exercise in schools. From scheduling check ups, sports physicals, making sure children are up to date on vaccinations, and dealing with a child’s mental health, there is a lot parents can do to keep their children healthy and ready for a successful school year.

Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health physicians are available for interviews on a variety of back to school health topics, including  the following:

  • Back To School Physicals & Paperwork - It is important for your child to have a yearly physical to make sure they are healthy. This can be done at the start of the school year or around your child’s birthday.  Having a physical before the start of school can be important for children who keep medication at the school nurse to allow time for all medication plan paperwork, like an asthma action plan for example to be completed, prescriptions to be filled and dropped off at the school. 
  • Importance of Sports Physicals- Many youth sports require students to have a sports physical before getting clearance to play. Sudden cardiac arrests, including the recent incident with Lebron James’ son, Bronny James and NFL player Damar Hamlin, underscore the importance of a through sports physical. Doctors run tests to ensure players' cardiac, pulmonary function are ready for the rigors of their athletic training. This is important because studies show injuries like commotio cordis or cardiac arrest are far more common in youth sports, than professional athletics. The national commotio cordis registry found the mean age of reported cases is 15 years old.  Experts believe children have a thinner chest wall, making them more susceptible to commotio cordis especially when playing sports like baseball, softball or hockey. A sports physical is also an opportunity to discuss any sports related injuries, and injury prevention.
  • Vaccinations Up To Date- In most instances, NJ schools require students to be up to date on their childhood vaccinations. A check up with a pediatrician will allow parents to verify a child is up to date on vaccinations and receive any required vaccines. Additionally, parents can discuss with their child’s doctor whether  additional vaccinations including the flu shot, Covid immunizations and boosters, and HPV vaccines are recommended. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends COVID vaccination for everyone 6 months and older. Children should get fully immunized as soon as they are eligible.
  • Nutrition - A balanced diet not only plays a significant role in children’s growth and development, but studies have shown it impacts on students’ school performance, for example skipping breakfast is associated with with decreased school performance, while participation in a school breakfast program has demonstrated to increase academic grades, standardized test scores and reduce absenteeism.  Failure to eat foods with significant specific nutrients is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness and an inability to focus. 

The CDC says empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of daily calories for children and adolescents age 2–18 years—affecting the overall quality of their diets. Approximately half of these empty calories come from six sources: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza, and whole milk. Most youth do not consume the recommended amount of total water, underscoring the importance of packing healthy lunch and snacks for kids at school.

Pediatricians and nutritionists can discuss children’s dietary needs, and strategies to get them to eat healthy foods to fuel their academic success. 

  • Sleep and Cell Phones, Computers and Television- Going back to school means early wake up calls to catch the bus. It should also mean an earlier bedtime to ensure children get enough sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ages 3-5 years get 10 to 13 hours of sleep including naps, children ages 6-12 years old get 9-12 hours of sleep and children 13-18 years get 8-10 hours of sleep. 

With the change in routine, it is best to start adapting your child’s sleep routine prior to the first day of school.  Practice good sleep habits such as making the bedroom a screen time free zone at bedtime. Blue light from cell phones, televisions and computers can disrupt sleep. Back to school is a good time to create a media plan designed to balance screen time with sleep, exercise and other healthy activities. Help your children choose high-quality programs or games and help them discern the difference from online sites that promote false information, negative body image or bullying. 

  • Anxiety & Other Mental Health issues- Earlier this year the American Psychological Association said youth mental health was facing a crisis. The CDC found in the 10 years ahead of the COVID pandemic feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors increased 40% among youth. The impact is even higher post-pandemic caused in part by isolation and a growing reliance on technology and social media for social interaction.  

Many children are also dealing with anxiety in the post pandemic era. Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.

  • Air Quality Concerns and school and medications for school - Wildfires and other issues mean we are likely to deal with periodic air quality alert days like we saw at the end of last school year and throughout the summer. School administrators, sports coaches and parents should closely monitor the air quality through a website like

Students with breathing problems like asthma, and their parents should especially take note of the air quality as poor air quality can impact sensitive groups at lower levels. Parents should consult with their children’s doctor to ensure all asthma medications are up to date and an action plan to keep asthma in check on air quality alert days is established. This is particularly important for students who go to schools without air conditioning or proper ventilation.