Physical Health Maintenance & Hygiene
Physical health and maintenance include hygiene, nutrition, physical activity, regular check-ups, and sleep. Parents and caregivers can exert major influence over their children’s health maintenance, even into adolescence.
Both hand and oral hygiene are important aspects of health.
- Research has found that hand hygiene decreases across childhood. But inexpensive interventions can counteract this trend effectively.
- Children from poor families have higher levels of tooth decay than their advantaged counterparts, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Both oral hygiene knowledge and behaviors can be improved through interventions, but the improvements in behaviors generally fade after the intervention.
- According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health, more than 51 million school hours are lost every year because of dental-related illnesses. Untreated dental diseases can ultimately lead to other problems such as difficulties in eating, speaking, and paying attention during learning activities.
Regular vision and hearing screenings are important for children’s healthy development; yet, many children do not receive such care.
- Early screening for hearing problems is especially important for children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. One study found that the earlier children were enrolled in early intervention the better their vocabulary and verbal reasoning skills at age five, no matter the severity of their impairment.
- As many as four out of five children do not get eye exams. Reasons range from economic (e.g., low-income, no-insurance), social (e.g., language barriers), and political (e.g., underfunded preventive medicine) barriers.
Many children and adolescents do not meet the suggested nutritional guidelines, failing to eat healthy foods often enough and frequently consuming unhealthy food and drink.
- In a sample of high-risk adolescents, more than half of the sample reported drinking sugar-laden soda at least five to six times a week, and half of the sample reported consuming food or drink from a fast-food restaurant at least three to four times a week.
- Nearly 1 in 5 early adolescents reported that they usually skipped breakfast and about 1 in 3 reported that they did not eat a vegetable on the previous day.
- Regularly eating dinner with family has many benefits for children and adolescents (e.g., less likely to be overweight, more fruit consumption, and fewer risky behaviors).
Physical activity significantly decreases as children grow older, and more affluent kids get more exercise than the less affluent. The positive impacts of exercise on physical and psychological health are well documented.
- A survey of physical activity during adolescence found that, on average, the mean change in physical activity per year was approximately a 7 percent decrease.
- Children from advantaged homes (e.g., higher income and levels of maternal education) are more likely to participate in physical activity than their lower-income counterparts.
- Psychological variables are related to physical activity: self-efficacy is positively associated with physical activity both in childhood and adolescence. Motivation is positively associated with physical activity during adolescence as well.
- Exercise also decreases the incidence and likelihood of depression.
As children grow older and enter adolescence, they sleep less, even though their sleep needs don’t decrease proportionally.
- Parents have a significant influence on children’s sleep, as positive relationships with parents and parent-set bedtimes are associated with better sleep outcomes.
- Children who sleep more report better academic performance.
- Meanwhile, the same study says, less total sleep was related to increased depressive mood, and increased levels of sleepiness.
- Adolescents with greater levels of weekday sleep and total sleep were less likely to use cigarettes and marijuana two years later; higher levels of weekend sleep were linked to a decreased probability of later cigarette use.
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