Keeping your kids healthy

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Keeping your kids healthy Dr Martine Walker

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Listen to Dr Martine Walker, a city GP who specialises in family health and has two primary school-aged children, chat with Rachel Friend on how to keep your child healthy.

 

Download: right click and Save Link/Target As (MP3 6MB)

Views expressed in interviews may not be the views of the NSW Department of Education.


At a glance

  • Get your child to help pack their lunch box so they are more likely to eat what's in it.
  • Try to include protein in your child's lunch box to keep them full and energetic.
  • Exercise is vital in helping manage weight, keeping muscles strong, helping their hearts and lungs develop, and improving their hand-eye coordination.
  • Wash your hands regularly to avoid germs.
  • Cough into your elbow, not your hands.
  • The healthiest drink options for kids are water and milk.
  • Look after your child's emotional health too – try not to overschedule them, having some ‘down time' is important too.
TRANSCRIPT

Rachel Friend

Hello, I'm Rachel Friend, and welcome to School A to Z.

Martine Walker is a GP with two kids, both at primary school.

Martine, I know you see sick kids, including my own, week in, week out at your practice, and I know you've got some great ideas on how parents can protect their kids from illness and really boost their immune system, so let's start with diet – what should we be packing in our kids' lunch boxes to make sure that they're eating properly when they're at school?

Dr Martine Walker

It's a big challenge because when they're little, we're in control, but when they go to school, they're in control. So there are some really important things, some tools that we need for them to have in their lunch boxes. Number one is protein. Protein is the sort of food that helps to keep you full and helps to slowly leak out glucose into your bloodstream during the day so that you can stay alert and active and learning.

The other little trick though, is you can put whatever you like into their lunch box, but unless they like it, they're not going to eat it. So my little trick, and it took me a while to learn this, is to actually let the kids help me, or actually let them do it all by themselves – pack their lunch boxes. They're much, much more likely to come home with an empty lunch box, well fed, if they've helped pack it.

Rachel

What sort of value do you put on exercise? How important is exercise to keeping a child healthy?

Martine

Exercise, you know, all through the ages is important, but particularly for children. You know, the obvious thing is weight management, but in children that's usually not so important as making sure that their muscles are strong, that their lungs and that their hearts are developing properly, that their hand-eye coordination is good, and exercise is just the best recipe for doing that.

Rachel

So do you really think that active kids are healthier kids?

Martine

Oh, definitely, and the research just backs that up completely. We know that children who spend a lot of time watching screens and watching television tend to be less fit, tend to be overweight. And part of that is because of the advertising and the triggers for food that are inherent in those things, so the more we can keep children away from screens, the less likely they are to eat more.

Rachel

Now we all know the importance of washing hands, and I mean you in your surgery, I see you washing your hands probably 100 times a day [laughs]. How often should our children wash their hands, and is it really that important when it comes to preventing the spread of germs?

Martine

I think the SARS crisis a couple of years ago really brought that out, when you'd see the cleaners cleaning the knobs and cleaning the doors and cleaning the railings in the airports – that's the way, hand-to-hand is the way that we transmit infection. So washing your hands before meals, washing your hands after meals if you can drag them to it, is really, really healthy. Particularly when you've got a cold and there's a lot more infected secretions hanging around, it's really important that washing hands both around the house and at school.

The other thing is that there's been a change – and our children probably know this better than we do – in the way that we cover our mouth when we sneeze, when we're unwell. In the olden days we used to say, "Cover your mouth with your hands", but now we ask people to sneeze into the crook of their elbow. The problem with coughing into your hands is that the next moment, you're touching something. So coughing into your elbow is a really good idea.

Rachel

Now what about vitamins? There are vitamins on the market specifically for children, but I'm never sure whether they're safe, and whether they're a great idea. What do you think?

Martine

I think most doctors and health practitioners would say ideally you get everything you need from a healthy diet. In terms of helping to fight infection, things go in and out of fashion. You know, a couple of years ago, vitamin C was really popular. At the moment, there's probably some good evidence that taking zinc – not as a preventer, so not all the time – but in the first couple of days of an illness, shortens the length of the illness and possibly decreases the severity. But to some extent it is a bit of a watch-it game.

Rachel

And zinc is OK for kids?

Martine

Yeah, definitely making sure that you're not overdosing, so that you follow very clearly the directions on the bottle, ideally talking to your pharmacist about zinc preparations that are appropriate for children.

Rachel

Now we all know the benefits of water, but what about when it comes to keeping our kids hydrated – you would recommend water, I imagine, over fizzy drinks and juices?

Martine

It's a no-brainer now that there's lots of empty carbohydrates, empty calories in fizzy drinks that we just don't need. I think the other aspect of fluids that we can't ignore, but the dieticians absolutely love, is milk. Milk is a really good source of protein and a really good source of calcium. So I think if I were to recommend fluids, it would be water, particularly when you're exercising, and milk as a staple part of your diet.

Rachel

And what about sleep? I think adults don't get enough of it – are our children getting enough; how much should they get?

Martine

No, and there's really good research to show that children and getting less and less sleep as the years go on, so to have that lovely rigid system that we used to have with our two-year-olds is hard to do, but the more sleep we can get into our children, the better rested they're going to be, the better they're going to be able to concentrate and learn.

Rachel

What about when they're sick? Do you let them sleep as much as they need to?

Martine

Oh, of course. And I think it's really important when they're sick – and it's really hard because so many of us are working now – but it's really good to try and actually keep them at home. And if you can swing that, you know, using grandma, using some form of childcare, staying home yourself – it's really important in terms of preventing spread of infection to other people, and also giving our kids a chance just to recover.

Rachel

So parting comments – as a GP with two kids, what's your secret to keeping them well?

Martine

I think that brings up the last emotional health, and I think it's really important that children have activities, but also that they have down time. Because that's the time – you know, one of the biggest tasks of life is learning how to manage being bored. And so although it's really important to have lots of activities, give them down time as well. Let them learn how to fill their own time using their imagination, using their resilience.

Rachel

Martine Walker, thank you.

Martine

Thank you.


Keeping your kids healthy Dr Martine Walker

Dr Martine Walker

Dr Martine Walker is a Sydney GP and mother of two.  She has a special interest in children and adolescents.



 

 


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