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Summertime Safety Tips for the Family

Summertime is associated with fun and relaxation, but pediatricians suggest two different words for parents to keep in mind this summer: caution and supervision.

Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, founder of the American Council on Science and Health, and Dr. Robert Brent of the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, spoke with me this morning about summertime health and safety risks for children. According to Dr. Brent, accidents are the number one cause of death in kids who range in age from one-year-old to adolescence, which is why it’s so important to keep a watchful eye on your kids when they’re out and about. Here are some tips for keeping the family safe at some of the major places you’ll be hitting this summer.

Under the sun

Dr. Brent says sun safety is rudimentary for all kids: “You can get serious burns from exposure to the sun, and the prevention of that is so simple. We talk about sunscreen, but a hat and a shirt can do much better than even the sunscreen.”

In the water

When you’re at the beach, Dr. Brent says the closest you should bring an infant (up to one-and-half-years-old) to the water is at the shore, playing in the sand: “You walk out into the water with that child [in your arms] — you feel that you’re strong and can take care of anything — and an undertow comes along. That child can get drawn under and disappear.”

As for wading pools in the backyard, don’t let their shallowness fool you. Infants always require adult supervision near water. “A lot of people think a child can’t drown in a wading pool, but they can,” Dr. Brent says. “There has to be supervision there, and it can’t be your 7-year-old. A 7-year-old is not trained to help with a child that gets underwater.”

For the older kids, Dr. Whelan says it’s actually perfectly safe for them to swim after eating: “How often did our mothers tell us we could not go in for two hours — or maybe if you had a cheeseburger you couldn’t go in for ten hours — because you’d get cramps and drown? There’s no scientific basis for that.”

At the picnic table

Don’t be scared of mayo! Dr. Whelan pointed out that while “many people are uneasy about eating chicken salad or potato salad because they’ve heard that foods made with mayonnaise cause food poisoning, the scientific reality is that adding mayonnaise actually protects the food because of the high acid content.”

But, she warns, food poisoning during the summer is a potential problem, as the summer temps can cause food to go bad. Her suggestion to avoid a night of tummyaches is to “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.”

On the plane

For those of you who might be going on long flights this summer, Dr. Brent says to stay hydrated and make sure everyone gets enough fluids. “Dehydration makes the jet lag worse,” he says.

You should also encourage your kids to catch some Zs on overnight flights. “Children can get so excited that they won’t sleep, but you’ve got to take advantage of the fact that you can push the seat back and try to get some shut eye,” Dr. Brent says.

And to prevent family members from getting headaches, Dr. Brent suggests getting up every now and then for a little walk up and down the aisles.

Follow these safety tips and you just might have a headache-free summer!

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