Staying Healthy In College
How do I help my student figure out how to take care of health issues when they leave the nest?
Provide a copy or have them take a picture of the following with their smartphone: insurance card, immunization record, and a list of their medications, allergies, and chronic illnesses.
Enter helpful health-related numbers in their phone contact list: phone number and address (or Web site) of local student health service, urgent treatment center, emergency room, pharmacy, and home primary care provider.
Prepare a first aid kit for treating minor illnesses. This should include: thermometer, ace wrap, hand sanitizer, assorted sizes of bandages, antibacterial ointment, and over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and fever; loperamide for diarrhea; ranitidine, meclizine, or dimenhydrinate for nausea; and a decongestant, expectorant, and cough suppressant for cold and flu symptoms.
What topics should we discuss prior to entering college?
College is a time when young adults may experiment and figure out appropriate behavior on their own. It might be helpful to be proactive with some conversation about alcohol, drugs, sex, safety issues, and balance and excess.
The legal age for consumption of alcohol is 21, but should your student choose to drink, discuss how to do so responsibly. Have a plan to include having a designated driver, a buddy system, and getting home safely. Educate about signs of alcohol intoxication, alcohol poisoning, consequences of binge drinking and drinking games, and not to leave drinks unattended. Familiarize yourself with resources to help with problems in this area, including the campus counseling center, alcohol or drug counselors, or community AA and NA programs.
This might also be a good opportunity to talk about safer sex practices. If abstinence is not the choice your student makes, be sure they know where to go for more information and services, such as the local student health service, Planned Parenthood, or the Health Department.
Discuss balance in areas including studies, sleep, exercise, nutrition, and extracurricular activities.
Discuss safety issues like traveling in groups late at night, taking a well-lit route across campus, or taking a self-defense course.
What nutritional advice would be helpful for my son or daughter at college?
There are some healthy options for the dorm, but they can be limited by the size of a dorm refrigerator and its small freezer space. For grains, stock up on whole breads and cereals, tortillas, bagels, English muffins, and granola bars. Canned fruits, dried fruits, fruit cups (like applesauce), and fresh fruit are good options. Low-sodium canned veggies, bag salads, carrots, and microwavable sweet potatoes are easy ways to get some color and nutrition into the diet. Healthy proteins include eggs, nuts, peanut butter, tuna, deli meats, and trail mix. Have some string cheese and low-fat or Greek yogurt in order to get adequate calcium.
Healthy options in the dining halls include baked or grilled chicken and fish, pasta with marinara or meat sauce, deli sandwiches, salad bars, fresh fruits, vegetables, veggie or black bean burgers, and broth-based soups.
Parents, keep all this information handy at home, too, as your students may wind up calling you for advice even if you have had this conversation prior to their leaving for college.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Social Health Association
American College Health Association
United States Department of Agriculture