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Parent Education

Guidelines Issued for Healthy and Happy Campers

With spring here, and the promise of summer only months away, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released revised guidelines for keeping children who attend camp healthy and happy campers. The guidelines are available in the AAP journal Pediatrics.

The camp experience can have fantastic growth and developmental benefits including helping build children's self-esteem, leadership skills, values, friendships, and allowing them to try new experiences and connect with the natural environment, according to the AAP statement. The revised AAP guidelines for creating healthy camp experiences offer tips to prepare campers and camps for the most healthy and enjoyable camp experience possible.

Parents can play a major role in preparing their campers for the experience. The AAP suggests that parents assess their future camper’s interests, skills and overall physical and mental health when looking for a camp that is the best match. Future campers should be current on all AAP recommended vaccines, and parents should provide camp officials with a recent review of their child’s health by a licensed health care provider. If a child has any special medical needs, parents should  make sure camp health officials are aware before the camper arrives at camp.

Homesickness is one of the most common things experienced by new campers, and parents can play a role in helping their camper to feel less anxious about being away from home and loved ones. Parents are encouraged to discuss homesickness openly with their child, being positive about the upcoming camp experience. The guidelines suggest involving your future camper in the process of choosing their camp and in preparing for camp. Parents are encouraged to have “practice” excursions for their campers, where they will be away from home with friends or relatives. And framing the upcoming camping experience as being an exciting adventure will help build positive feelings in the campers, rather than anxiety.

The AAP guidelines also offer specific and detailed information for camp administrators on preparing for the best and healthiest camping experience for both children and staff. Camp health officials need to prepare and maintain health care records, emergency plans, and to anticipate emergency scenarios and how they will be handled. Camp staff need to be properly trained on a number of practices including storage and use of any medications that might be needed, first aid, CPR, and use of AEDs if they are available. The AAP says all camps should have written health policies that have been reviewed by a physician who specializes in children’s health, and all camp health care providers should be trained and understand the health guidelines, including plans for treating both major and minor illnesses, and injuries. Local emergency providers should be contacted before the start of camp, to discuss emergency response times and plans of action. Camps are also advised to establish relationships with local dentists or orthodontists to treat potential emergencies.

The AAP also stresses the importance of keeping camps clean and healthy by emphasizing the importance of hand washing and proper cough/sneeze behaviors to campers and staff. The guidelines note that “the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza pandemic and the emergence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA,have highlighted the need for increased screening and surveillance” of campers, and the importance of good hygiene. For campers who may require emergency inhalers, or epinephrine autoinjectors, camps should establish clear guidelines and protocols for their administration.

Noting that obesity and cardiovascular health are important public health priorities, the guidelines suggest that food served and sold in camps follow federal guidelines for school nutrition.  Food should not be used as reward or punishment for campers, and at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity should be included in the camp program. Water should be available to campers throughout the day. The guidelines also suggest limiting or not allowing sweetened beverages, including sport drinks. The camp guidelines also note that certain camps, such as camps that include disabled or special health care needs, may require additional assessments for the special population, and camp authorities are advised to work with health care providers to assess needs of children before they arrive at camp.

Going to day camp or resident camp is something that more than 11 million kids will experience this year, according to the American Camp Association, which reviewed and supports the AAP guidelines.

Posted by Ann J. Curley - CNN Medical Assignment Manager - CNN Health



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