Better Health for Back-to-School

By  Dr. Julie La Barba
Medical Director
Culinary Health Education for Families

The start of the school year can both excite and overwhelm us. Major transitions like suddenly becoming the new kid in school, or entering middle or high school, are especially stressful – and bring on real anxiety that can cause sleep problems. Time crunches from new schedules add even more stress for students and parents alike, making nutritious family meals more of a “maybe” than a norm.

A Bit of Science
Night after night of shortened sleep creates a “sleep deficit.” When we’re not working with a full tank of zzzs, it’s harder to concentrate on school work and other activities. Add stress into the mix and look out for mood swings, overeating and eventual weight gain. It’s hard to believe, but too little sleep and too much stress can be partially responsible for piling on extra pounds. 

Why? Sleep deprivation and the inability to manage stress play key roles in metabolism. After we go to sleep, our body stays awake to get things done, like regenerating cells and relaxing muscles. But when we don’t get enough sleep, our body has to do those things in addition to giving us energy for whatever’s keeping us up. That’s why tired and stressed-out people often feel hungrier than normal, and crave fat, salt and sugar. (Hence the late-night snack.) Back-to-school schedules and commitments can make adequate sleep and nutritious family meals seem an impossible task. But it can be done – and should be to keep you all on track to a calmer, more productive school year.

Parents: You can only do your best
Try as we might, we can’t control the people around us – including our kids. But we can be a positive influence. To be the wind beneath your star student’s wings this year:

  1. Encourage more sleep.
  2. Help them (and yourself) find ways to manage stress.
  3. Plan ahead for healthier meals.

To read Dr. La Barba’s entire blog, visit the USAF Fit Family website at www.usaffitfamily.com/page27211625

Author: Julie La Barba, MD

Dr. La Barba earned her medical degree at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) in 2002 and completed her pediatric residency in 2006 at University Hospital and The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio (formerly CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital). Dr. Julie La Barba is passionate about children and nutrition. Having grown up in an Italian produce family, Dr. La Barba learned to appreciate real food at an early age. This fostered her professional commitment to children’s nutrition and resulted in her extensive professional training and targeted advocacy for public health education and research. Now the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Medical Director of CHEF (Culinary Health Education for Families) and mother of four, her special interests include breastfeeding promotion, pediatric obesity prevention, culinary medicine, urban farming and nutrition education for the underserved. Earning national certification from the American Board of Pediatrics in 2011, she is an active Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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