TODAY   |  August 19, 2010

The importance of back-to-school physicals

Just as important as new school supplies, school-age children should have a back-to-school physical to help prepare them for the year ahead. Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann of the American Academy of Pediatrics shares important information every parent should know.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> this morning on "back to school today" physicals at every age. the beginning of another academic year means more than just new pencils, teachers and books, it's also time to make sure your child is ready for a healthy school year, starting off with a thorough medical checkup. dr. alton is a spokesperson for the american academy of pediatrics . good to see you.

>> thanks for having me, al.

>> there are a lot of forms to get filled out and now is the time to do it, because the pediatrician's office is really going to get filled up. when we're talking about that general physical, what are we talking about?

>> well, most parents think of a back-to-school physical as the exam with the stethoscope and other doctor gadgets. while that's very important i often spend more time discussing nutrition, exercise, sleep, media exposure and safety, as these things can really impact a child's future health.

>> so now each grade or each group, age group , it's a different kind of a checkup. let's start with preschool.

>> sure. this is a fun age. i often ask the kids questions like, are you a bore or a girl? and when they look at me silly and say, i'm a boy, i know they're on track with developments. parents also want to talk about temper tantrums and potty training at this age.

>> what about behavioral discussions?

>> i ask them how they listen, if they're following directions, and about sleep and potty training . any questions.

>> when we talk about kindergarten entrance exam , what signs are doctors looking for?

>> for kindergarten i really want to know, will the child sit and follow directions? are they learning their letters and how to write their name. for the kindergarten exam there's often some simple blood test that can be done with a poke in the doctor's office, vaccines and my son's favorite part was that he got to pee in a cup.

>> who doesn't like that. and are they -- when you said that basically the needles, the finger prick , are there any needle needle type shots?

>> there are four kindergarten boosters that your child can get any time after age 4 before they start kindergarten.

>> now moving into elementary school . what are we going to be expecting thereth

>> in this age, they may be starting to go through puberty. we talk about hygiene. for the girls it's often washing your face, for the boys that you really do need a shower. we'll start talking about safety, internet safety is important. i encourage parents to start an electronic curfew so a certain time at night, all media in the house is off.

>> tell me about scoliosis.

>> it's something that your doctor should check with something that measures your child's spine. and we do that every year when they come in for the exam. as they grow taller that's often when we pick up scoliosis.

>> once you move into middle school , now we've got biology taking part and coming into play.

>> exactly. puberty and pimples. if i can help a middle school student clear up their acne i've made a friend for life.

>> and what else are we looking at?

>> well, at this age parents often aren't with their kids when they're hopping on the skateboard or bicycle. and we start talking about peer pressure. which means doing what you may think is right.

>> i took my daughter in a couple of months ago to get her physical for camp and we kind of doubled up and did it for school. there were some shots involved.

>> exactly. 11 and 12-year-olds get their booster for tetanus and whooping cough as well as meningitis and hpv.

>> do you talk about, especially with girls, the bulimia issue?

>> we do. that often comes up. i ask them how they're getting along with everyone at school and at home. we talk about self-esteem, how they feel about theirself and is anyone giving them problems.

>> how we move into high school and this is probably going to be the first time when the pediatrician asks you, the parent, to leave the room for awhile.

>> exactly. and i think it's very important to give your teenager a chance to be alone with their doctor. this way they can start taking control of their own health, and ask some questions that they may not feel comfortable asking a parent. yes, we do talk about sex, drugs and alcohol. and we also talk about how things are going on at home, at school. we evaluate for depression and suicide.

>> at what point as a pediatrician, especially when you're dealing with a high school student , when they discuss things with you, where does that patient/doctor confidentiality, where does that stand as -- when it pertains to a parent? if you hear something from the student, do you say something to the parent?

>> well, everything that the patients are students tell me is confidential. unless i feel that they're going to hurt themselves or harm someone else .

>> okay. dr. tanya thank you so much. if you want more information check out our website at and if