Back-to-school health tips

Dr. Kristine Knudten (left) and Dr. Amanda Leino (right) have personal and professional experience with getting kids off to a healthy start in school.

Kristine Knudten, MD, and Amanda Leino, MD, care for children every day in the Family Medicine department at GRHS. At home, they are moms to a combined six children, including twin boys for Dr. Knudten.

They share all parents’ concerns that their kids stay healthy and safe at school. “It’s hard to learn when you’re not feeling well!” says Dr. Leino. “We want our patients and their families to do what they can to avoid getting sick and, if they do happen to catch a bug, to prevent spreading it.”

Dr. Moms’ health care checklist

Besides new jeans and a pencil case packed with supplies, there are lots of ways to help your children be prepared – and stay healthy – for the new school year. As doctors and moms, Dr. Knudten and Dr. Leino offered their back-to-school checklist:

✓ Schedule that sports physical: The Minnesota State High School League requires a sports physical every three years. GRHS offers sports physicals throughout the year. Call 320-864-7816 to schedule an appointment. Download the league’s form from

✓ Update vaccinations: Your kids will need the seasonal flu vaccine this fall. Before you make that appointment, check to make sure all other vaccinations are current so you can get any necessary boosters all at once. You’ll find a complete schedule of recommended immunizations, screenings and preventive services for kids at

This year, even parents might need a shot. In 2014, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported nearly 1,000 cases of pertussis (whooping cough). While that number is less than the more than 2,000 cases reported in 2012, pertussis remains a serious concern. MDH recommends that adults who have never had a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) booster should get one right away. Even if adults have previously received the Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster alone, they are advised to receive a Tdap regardless of when the last Td was received. If you have had one Tdap booster as an adult, you do not need another. Check with your doctor to review your immunization history and get the Tdap if you need it. This is especially important if you are pregnant, have just had a baby, are a caregiver of infants or live and work around children.

✓ Choose the best pack for your child’s back: A healthy backpack has wide straps for comfort and even weight distribution. Keep its weight when full to no more than 15 percent of your child’s body weight and place heavier items in the center. Dr. Knudten recommends packing hand sanitizer for times when soap and water aren’t handy.

✓ Instill the handwashing habit: “We know that viral illnesses and bacterial infections like strep increase as soon as kids move from home to classrooms with 20 or more children,” adds Dr. Knudten. “The best lesson you can teach your kids about avoiding illness is to wash their hands often, rubbing with soap and warm water for as long as it takes to sing The Alphabet Song, and to avoid touching their faces and mouths.” Summer is a great time for your kids to practice these skills under the watchful eyes of a parent.

✓ Keep nutritious snacks on hand: Balanced nutrition is needed for bodies and minds to grow. Include fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, low-fat cheese and yogurt, granola, whole grain crackers and snack bars on your shopping list.

✓ Lay the groundwork for a good start: Talk with the school nurse before school starts if your child has a food allergy, needs medicine for a chronic condition such as asthma or if you need to discuss another health concern. Tour the school, meet teachers and encourage your kids to talk about any anxious feelings. And start moving back summer bedtimes to help ensure kids get enough sleep once school starts.

✓ Help your kids avoid catching or spreading illness: Remind your kids not to share combs, hats, water bottles and eye makeup. Teach them to cough into a tissue or inside their elbow. And – most importantly – make sure your contingency plans are in place so you can keep your kids home from school when they are ill.


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