School Nurse Notes…It All Starts With An Apple

We are all most likely familiar with the saying, “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away”. Although a bit of a cliché, the well-known phrase is a valiant effort to promote the concept of self-care and preventative care. When we learn as much as we can about our bodies and the proper ways to care for it, along with making the commitment to actually do those things, we significantly decrease our risk factors for those diseases that we have some control over such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Clearly, there are those circumstances where those chronic diseases arise due to factors beyond our control but, when that is not the case, we have a great deal of power to keep them at bay. And, while it is possible to change lifestyles and poor health habits at any age, history shows that it’s better to begin learning and applying those healthy habits at an early age.

So…what is a good age to begin learning the healthiest habits and ways to care for oneself, you ask? Psychology Today tells us “the earlier, the better”. As school nurses, caring for students from Pre-K to 12th grade, we are in a prime position to begin that learning process along with the lessons taught by health and PE teachers and in conjunction with parents that have already begun teaching and modeling those healthy habits at home. We are also privy to and work along with community resources geared to instructing students about healthy lifestyles.

Important information such as eating properly to fuel the body, proper food portions, exercising the body and mind, healthy hygiene habits, being aware of how the body works and warning signs to look out for are all indispensable lessons that students are capable of grasping in age-appropriate concepts. After receiving that “healthy habits” education, it is even possible for that young person to effect change in their own household by sharing some of those healthy tid-bits with parents and other family members.

In her article, “Why Start Healthy Habits At An Early Age”, Jennifer Andrews, a physical therapist and kinesiologist, further verifies that point by giving four reasons early knowledge is important:

Long Term Habits – the earlier healthy habits begin, the easier it will be to stick with them later in life. One is prone to carry on good habits learned as a child into adulthood and less likely to begin bad habits later in life that were not present in childhood.

Develop Health Preferences – your palate is more likely to adapt to preferring health foods if you learned to eat them as a child.

Medical Illness – poor dietary habits and lack of exercise contribute to many medical conditions. The prevention and treatment of these diseases include altering one’s lifestyle to eating healthy and participating in a regular exercise regimen.

Weight Management – according to The World Health Organization, more than 42 million children worldwide are categorized as obese which increases the risks for developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In addition, according to CNN, overweight children are more likely to be the victims of bullying. Developing healthy eating habits early in life minimizes the risks of weight gain as an adult.

School nurses are “teachers” too and an excellent source of information. Although not usually in a formal classroom setting, school nurses long for and get to experience those “teachable moments” each and every day in their health offices where a student may initially come to see the nurse for one thing but leave having gained some unexpected enlightenment about a healthy habit or two. Interestingly enough, for the last 23 years as a school nurse, I keep an apple paperweight on my desk to remind me that…it all starts with an apple.