Healthy Living in the North

What can you do to support safe and inclusive school environments for children with food allergies?

The lunch bell rings and Johnny enthusiastically starts to eat his tuna salad sandwich, apple, cookie, and milk. As he is chatting with his friends, he suddenly starts to feel sick. His mouth feels itchy and his tummy starts to hurt. Johnny finds his teacher and tells her he is not feeling well. His teacher is aware that Johnny has a food allergy and recognizes the signs of a serious allergic reaction. She gives him life-saving medication and calls 9-1-1.

Students in classroom

Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job! Students, parents, and schools all have a role to play!

May is Allergy Awareness Month: it’s a great time to talk about how we can create safe and inclusive environments for children with food allergies so they may safely eat, learn, and play.

In Canada, approximately 300,000 children have food allergies. The most common food allergens are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, seafood, wheat, and sulphites. Anaphylaxis is the most serious type of allergic reaction and can be deadly if untreated.

As a dietitian who has supported families with an allergic child, I understand that keeping your child safe at school can seem like a daunting task. I have also come to understand that prevention is not enough. While some schools will ask parents not to send foods with certain allergens like peanuts to classrooms, it is important that students and schools have the knowledge and skills to respond to allergic emergencies appropriately. Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job!

What can schools do?

All school boards are required to develop an allergy-aware policy as well as an individual anaphylaxis emergency plan for each student with a serious allergy. In addition, schools can:

  • Work with parents to develop realistic prevention strategies. For example, some schools have “allergy-aware” eating areas while other schools have specific rules about allergens in the classroom.
  • Support ongoing training for all staff including teachers, bus drivers, and food service staff.
  • Consider non-food items for some class and school celebrations.
  • Take steps to ensure students with allergies are not bullied or left out.
  • Raise awareness about food allergies in the classroom, at school assemblies, or consider running a school-wide allergy awareness challenge.

What can parents and caregivers of children with allergies do?

  • Inform your school about your child’s allergy.
  • Provide your school with epinephrine auto-injectors, if needed.
  • Plan ahead for field trips and special events.
  • Teach your child how to protect themselves and reduce risk of exposure.
  • Read food labels carefully every time you shop and be aware of cross-contamination.
  • Guide your child as they learn to take on more responsibility for managing their allergy.

What can children with allergies do?

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after eating.
  • Do not share food, utensils, or containers.
  • Be careful with food prepared by others.
  • Carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times (by age 6 or 7 children are usually mature enough to do so).
  • Tell your friends about your allergies and what they should do in an allergic emergency.
  • Tell an adult as soon as you suspect an accidental exposure to an allergen.

Looking for more information about food allergies at school?

Here are a few of my top picks for resources and tools for parents, caregivers, or anyone working in and with schools:

Looking for personalized support? HealthLink BC’s Allergy Nutrition Service provides support to families who have concerns and question around food allergies. Just dial 8-1-1 and ask to speak with a registered dietitian.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

Share

Back to school: The connection protection

School bus

Back-to-school time reminds us of our connection to the built environment, school and playground.

This is the second year now where my daughter gears up for school and my son gears up to wait. My 4-year-old son has one more year at home before beginning his school journey in kindergarten in September 2017.

When I watch my 4-year-old wave to his sister as she walks to school, I am reminded of the many connections that exist at back-to-school time and how each of these connections will protect our family. Northern Health’s newly released Child Health Report would go so far as to say connection is one of the building blocks of health.

The first week of school is the perfect time to talk to kids about making new friends, showing kindness to others, and extending tolerance and acceptance. The pencils, patterns, and routines of a new school year help connect and ground our children to each other and the physical world around them in a way that the global community (internet and social media) cannot.

September and back-to-school season is a time to reconnect and connection can be a positive force in a child’s life for the long term. As parents, we can support the wonder, excitement and connection to education:

Back-to-school season also reminds us of our connection to the built environment, school, and playground. Motor vehicle crashes continue to lead the injury-related hospitalizations for children in the North. A community approach to safety develops our “connection protection”:

  • Make eye contact. Learn about pedestrian safety. Talk to kids while crossing the street about making eye contact or a connection with drivers. Look, listen, and be seen.
  • Use the crosswalk. Take the time to hold hands, connect, and walk with children while crossing; kids under age 10 are not ready to judge traffic safely and still rely on parents and drivers to protect them.
  • Slow down. Finally, view school zones as one last chance for an important connection. My 4-year-old thinks a 30 km/hr school zone is the slow zone by which he can wave goodbye to his sister for the day. For now, I will let him think that’s exactly what it is!
Amy Da Costa

About Amy Da Costa

Amy Da Costa has worked in Public Health for 12 years. She recently joined the Population Health team as a part-time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention. Amy lives in Kitimat with her husband and two children. They like to camp, swim, and cook as a family.

Share

Back to school – don’t forget a strong immune system for your child!

Public health nurse

As you support your kindergarten child through these first few, nervous weeks, it’s important to think of what you can do to prepare their immune system for long-lasting strength!

Has it really been two weeks already? It’s hard to believe that we’re busy getting everyone organized for back to school again! For our kindergarten kids, that means learning a new routine, organizing and preparing their lunches and ensuring they have everything they need to be successful in this new environment.

But don’t forget the one thing they need that might not be on your list – a strong immune system! As you prepare your kindergarten child for school and support them through these first few, nervous weeks, it’s important to think of what you can do to prepare their immune system for long-lasting strength!

The immunization program in B.C. recommends that children aged 4-6 receive their boosters of tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, varicella (chicken pox), measles, mumps, and rubella. For some children, it’s also recommended that they boost their protection against hepatitis A. The list of diseases we need to protect our kindergarteners against seems daunting, but don’t worry! Many of these immunizations are now made into combined formulations, which means fewer injections for your child. For most kindergarten kids, only three injections are needed to protect them against all of these diseases.

You may also be wondering what your local public health nurse is doing to prepare for the new school year. We are busy collecting demographic data from your child’s school and calling you to inform you of the various kindergarten blitzes or health fairs that are happening in your community. As a public health nurse, I take pride in ensuring that you have easy access to the clinics so that your child receives all the protection they need as they enter school this year. If you can’t make it to one of these community events, don’t worry because we are happy to see you in our regular clinics, too!

So, while you are actively preparing your kindergarten child for school and hearing their exciting tales of the first few days in class, don’t forget that your public health nurses and primary health care providers are also preparing to assist you in protecting your child against many harmful diseases that still circulate today! Let us make it easy for you to do the very best for your child, because I know that’s one less thing you have to worry about – especially when you might just want to focus on the excitement of your child entering kindergarten this year!

Contact your local health unit or usual primary health care provider to find out if your child’s immunizations are up-to-date. You can also visit Northern Health or ImmunizeBC for more information on vaccine-preventable illnesses and immunizations.

Lara Frederick

About Lara Frederick

Lara is a public health nurse currently working in Dawson Creek. She is currently completing her master's of nursing and enjoys volunteering for the Canadian Cancer Society and her workplace wellness committee. Lara loves to travel and one of her favorite places has been Turkey. She loves to go snowshoeing and cross-country skiing and also loves walking around exploring the outdoors with her two dogs.

Share

Attention parents! Do you have your back-to-school routines planned out?

Collage of kids going back to school.

Many thanks to the Northern Health nurses who sent in their family back-to-school photos! How can you make back-to-school healthy?

As summer holidays wind down, excitement of the new school year is on the horizon. Getting ready for back-to-school season can be a stressful and challenging time for parents and families. Establishing (or re-establishing) healthy routines is an important step to making the transition back to school happy and successful for the entire family.

Consistent routines help children to feel safe and secure and teach them to know what is expected of them. To establish routines, begin practicing them a couple of weeks prior to the start of school. Remember to be positive role models for your children. Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence their attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically.

Try to ensure that you incorporate healthy eating, physical activity, and adequate rest and sleep into your family routines as you gear up for school. Start each morning off with a nutritious breakfast for everyone. Evidence shows that kids who eat a healthy breakfast do better in school, have increased concentration and have more energy. Also remember that snacks and lunches can be just as healthy as breakfast! Involving children in planning and preparing their lunch provides a chance for them to learn about healthy eating.

Collage of kids going back to school

Many thanks to the Northern Health nurses who sent in their family back-to-school photos! How can you make back-to-school healthy?

Along with healthy eating, be sure to encourage your young ones to be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. Spend time together being active as this will contribute to reducing screen time for yourself and your children. It also avoids unnecessary sedentary behaviour.

Ensuring that children get enough sleep (9-10 hours/night) is also important throughout the school year. Adequate sleep is essential to healthy growth and development. Sleep helps to promote alertness, memory and performance. This is why it is so important to establish consistent bedtime routines that will make it easier for your child to relax, fall asleep, and sleep through the night.

Remember that families are unique and there is no one-size-fits-all back-to-school routine. Choosing routines that will work for your family and sticking to them is what’s most important.

What does your back-to-school routine look like?

  • Make bedtime the same every night.
  • Plan for healthy meals.
  • Limit screen time.
  • Talk with your child every day.
  • Teach your child about safety.
  • Encourage independence.
  • Make homework a routine.
  • Prepare the night before.

This article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of A Healthier You magazine.

Karen Wonders

About Karen Wonders

Karen was born and raised in Ottawa and over the last 30 years has lived in various cities and communities in Alberta and B.C. She has a nursing degree from the University of Victoria and currently lives and works in Prince George as a Public Health Nursing Program Manager. Karen is a strong advocate for the health of children and youth with her primary focus being in the area of "healthy schools". She is a director on the board of the Directorate of Agencies for School Health, which adds great value and is complementary to her. In her spare time, Karen enjoys travelling, spending time with her family and friends, and taking long walks with her dog Theodore.

Share