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But all parents can go on the offensive by developing healthy lifestyles for their kids: Some examples are cutting out the junk food, encouraging daily exercise and learning CPR.
Dr. Lelach Rave is on the front line of children's health care as a pediatrician at the Everett Clinic's Harbor Pointe Clinic (and at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center before that), and at home as the mother of three children, ages 8 and 5 years and 18 months.
Her patients range in age from infants to young adults and she treats everything from earaches to allergies, broken bones to sports injuries, to infectious diseases. Stress, whether from home or school, can send a child to her office with related health issues.
In a wide-ranging interview, Dr. Rave outlined some health strategies for parents.
"Immunizations are the most life-saving thing that has occurred in 100 years," she said.
"Getting immunizations is a huge thing that parents can do to keep their child safe," she said. "Children who are not immunized put other children at risk."
Whooping cough, which has reached epidemic levels in the state, is a prime example. It's something that spikes and ebbs over time, and parents have learned not to fear diseases because they don't know them, she said.
"Whooping cough can have very serious consequences," she said.
Vaccines protect against smallpox, diphtheria, polio, and meningococcal and pneumococcal diseases, among others.
The risk of contracting an infectious disease increases when children begin school or day care. Sick kids cough and sneeze, infecting healthy kids.
"The immune system is going to be challenged," Rave said.
Children should know basic hygiene skills, hand washing being a prime example. Adequate sleep and good nutrition help bolster the immune system.
Food and fat and fit
Good nutrition does not include junk food or soft drinks, Rave said. "Until they are grown with a job, there is no reason kids should ever have a soda." Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Down the road, overweight children face the same problems as adults: heart disease, hypertension, diabetes.
The health dangers of extra pounds are not only physical.
"On a much more psychological level, kids get teased," Rave said, and weight gain becomes a social problem.
"We talk a lot about kids being active. We encourage parents to get their kids outside for an hour a day of exercise," she said. Kids need a safe place to play, she said.
They also need to be unplugged from technology, a physically passive activity that soaks up a lot of time. Less time at a computer means more time to play outside.
Stress among children, whether from home or school, is a problem with health consequences.
When parents are under stress, children are, too, and family stress can reach toxic levels for kids, she said. For example, when families are under the gun financially because of the loss of a job or underemployment, a secure home environment is threatened and children pick up on it, Rave said. Stress can manifest itself in headaches, stomachaches and other common health complaints, leading to a trip to the doctor's office looking for the cause. "We see kids all the time who have complaints, but at the end of the day nothing seems to be wrong," she said.
All parents worry about drug use. Cigarettes are a drug. Don't let your children smoke.
Have a well-equipped home first-aid kit and learn CPR.
Make the doctor's office your health resource. A call to the office may save a trip to the clinic "where everyone is coughing on you in the waiting room," Rave said.
Even when things are going well, parents need to be vigilant.
Here are some agencies offering health care for low-income families.
• Community Health Center of Snohomish County, various locations in the county, www.chcsno.org
• Sea Mar Community Health Center Counseling Referral Services in Snohomish County, www.seamar.org, 425-347-5415
• Safe Harbor Health Clinic in Stanwood, 425-870-7384 or 888-550-6277
• Puget Sound Christian Clinic mobile van in Edmonds (425-298-3774). and Snohomish (425-679-1232), www.pschristianclinic.org
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