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Health, Nutrition & Fitness        < Previous        Next >


School Physicals and Sports Physicals


Q. Why should I pay to have my perfectly-healthy child have a physical exam before school starts or he participates in school sports?


A fairly typical school policy is to require incoming kindergartners and incoming seventh-graders to have a full physical and update their immunization schedules before starting school. New students are usually asked to provide documentation of an individual physical as well. Many districts refer low-income patients for free physicals, so finances need not be a deterrent to taking this annual step toward excellent health-care practice. If your child is going to participate in school-sanctioned sports, he or she will most likely have to have a sports physical before they can practice or join the team as well.


The American Academy of Pediatrics generally frowns on the "cattle call" type of sports physicals often scheduled in gyms at the start of the sports season, usually when physicals are mandated and the school is making them available free. The problem is that one doctor may see 50 or 60 young patients in one hour, obviously not an optimal situation for professional health-care assessment. The doctor often doesn't have each student's medical history, privacy and confidentiality may be compromised, and there usually is a complete lack of parental input.


Obviously, the one-on-one attention that your child can get from his or her own physician is superior to that situation.


Physicians recommend strongly to parents that they bring their child in for a routine physical once a year, on through the teen years, because of the more focused, individual treatment and careful procedures that are priceless for ensuing that nothing will be overlooked.


Your school may have a form you are supposed to fill out for this purpose, so check before you go, or see if your doctor's office has a form you can use.


A typical back-to-school physical might include:


   Review of immunization record

   Record height and weight

   Full developmental assessment

   Screen vision and hearing

   Test hemoglobin level

   Check a urine sample

   Perform a thorough physical exam

   Discuss safety issues such as bike helmets and skateboarding safety

   Provide advice regarding nutrition, sleep, and behavior


It's important to teach your child to think of his or her doctor as an important resource, and to feel free to ask questions about weight control, overtraining, depression, sexuality and other hot topics that there simply isn't time for in a mass screening at school.


As your child approaches and goes through adolescence, you might use that car ride to and from the doctor's office for the annual physical as an opportunity to talk to your child about sex, drugs and alcohol. You know you should do that, but we're all so busy, that it might help you "benchmark" whether you got "the talk" in that year if you mentally schedule it for that car ride.


Homework: Here's a transcript of a doctor being interviewed about the importance of the school physical, and how parents and students can prepare to make optimal use of that time in terms of managing their health:



By Susan Darst Williams Health 02 2008

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