Back-To-School Campaign Motivates Children, Parents To Embrace 'Habits For Health'

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Beginning this month, a new educational campaign will teach children ages 6-12 healthy habits both at home and at school.

Through a partnership with Healthy Kids Challenge and AstraZeneca, "Habits for Health" will provide 250 schools, as well as students' families, with resources and support tools that promote healthy eating and physical activity. As part of the campaign, a fun and unique interactive contest called Ready, Set, Cook & Eat will be held at two lucky elementary schools to encourage children to eat better. "Habits for Health" will also help children and families understand a common medical condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

"Nutritious meals, portion control, and physical activity are fundamentals of living a healthy lifestyle," said Vickie James, registered and licensed dietitian and director of Healthy Kids Challenge. "Our goal is to empower schools and families to make healthy behavior a priority and to help children integrate these habits into their everyday routines."

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Embracing healthy habits has benefits beyond fighting childhood obesity. Healthy eating and physical activity can help fight common childhood diseases such as asthma and diabetes, and may even reduce symptoms of GERD. The exact prevalence of GERD in children is unknown. However, GERD can lead to potentially serious complications like failure to thrive and erosive esophagitis in children.

There are very few studies in the medical literature reporting the frequency of GERD symptoms in children. In one study, researchers estimate children ages 3-17 years old reported GERD symptoms roughly 2-8% of the time.

Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve separating the esophagus and stomach) does not close properly, allowing acid to back up into the esophagus. Almost everyone has occasional heartburn, but if these symptoms occur two or more days a week, it may be a sign of GERD. GERD is a chronic condition resulting from the backflow of stomach acid into the food-pipe (esophagus) that may lead to more serious medical conditions including failure to thrive and esophageal inflammation if left untreated, but it can be treatable. Symptoms in children with GERD may vary according to age. In addition to heartburn, children with GERD may experience sour or bitter taste in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, weight loss, vomiting, regurgitation and abdominal pain.

"With childhood obesity on the rise, it's no surprise that we're seeing GERD in young children more than ever before," said Dr. Robbyn Sockolow, a pediatric gastroenterologist in New York City. "Unfortunately, the symptoms of GERD can significantly limit children's daily activities, such as participating in after-school hobbies. It's important that parents and kids know the role healthy eating habits play in managing this condition."

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