Keep kids safe during the summer months

Fitness Column

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

Everyone should take advantage of the beautiful summers in Georgia. Going outdoors with your kids or grandkids encourages outdoor activity and fun family time. Some summer activities come with safety hazards, but that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying them. Just keep safety first, and your outdoor adventure can be a positive experience for you and your children or grandchildren.

The great outdoors is a wonderful place for your child to experience the world, whether that means taking your children camping in the woods or just to the local park. When hiking or visiting any unfamiliar place, make sure your children are always within your line of sight, and ask them to keep tabs on you, too. Stress the importance of staying connected, whether in a big-city crowd or on a hiking trail in a forest. Hold hands with your child at all times or create a signal so you can call him/her back to you if they start to roam a little too far from reach. By creating your own special signal word, it will be easier for you and your child to find each other in case you become separated.

Summertime often means sun exposure. Be sure to slather your kids with sunscreen if you are going to be spending the day outdoors. Manufacturers recommend reapplying every two hours, especially when swimming or exercising. Bring a hat to shield your child’s face, neck and eyes from the sun, and set a good example by wearing sunscreen and a hat yourself.

Being outdoors often means being close to a street, so it is critical to discuss road safety rules with children. Accidents can happen on a busy street, in your neighborhood, or even your very own driveway. Make sure children stay away from cars, even parked cars, and never let them walk into the street without you. This is another good time to use a special signal word. For example, rather than shouting “no,” tell children that when they hear the word “freeze,” they are to stop in their tracks. Remember, children are often too distracted to be aware of the traffic around them.

Whether on a trail at the park or biking on a bike trail or in your neighborhood, biking and scooter safety is a must. One of the most important ways to reduce the risk of head injury from falls while on a bike or scooter is to wear a helmet. Doing so can reduce the risk of head injury by an astounding 85 percent. When riding a scooter, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) suggests following these rules, which can be applied to bike riding as well: Wear a helmet and elbow and knee pads; ride during the daytime; whenever possible, avoid other vehicles and traffic areas — ride your scooter on the sidewalk or paved off-road paths; avoid sand, water and dirt — keep your scooter on smooth surfaces.

Summertime is a great time to get your kids involved in a team sport. Participation in team sports is a great way to teach children discipline, sportsmanship and teamwork. But there should be guidelines as well. The kids health website, www.kidshealth.org, offers the following safety tips: Make sure your children use proper equipment (approved by the organization of each sport) and safety gear that fits properly; team sports staff should be CPR certified and should have first-aid training — safety of all children in any sport should be the emphasis of staff and coaches; make sure your child warms up with stretches and training sessions before practices and games; and have participants drink plenty of water. Following these tips could help prevent a sports injury.

Indoor or outdoor pools can be a great activity for children and adults over the summer. Pools attract kids like a magnet. And even fenced pools can be dangerous to children who don’t know how to swim. Enroll your child in swim lessons, and continue the lessons until he or she is a proficient swimmer. Use pools that employ certified lifeguards, and never take your eyes off of your children when they are in the water — even children who can swim.

Pool safety is vital. However, according to www.kidshealth.org, children can drown in less than two inches of water. Take extra precaution around all “bodies of water,” including bathtubs, sinks, toilets, ornamental ponds and fountains, buckets, lakes and beaches. Most cities offer CPR classes to the general public. These classes are not expensive and can often be completed in a weekend. Consider taking a CPR class. Learning how to administer CPR can literally be a lifesaver.

Being outdoors wouldn’t be as much fun without food and picnics. However, keeping food safe in extreme heat and in open containers presents a challenge. Food safety starts with preparation. Always bring plenty of ice when refrigeration is not available, and be ready to restock the cooler when the ice melts. Block ice is a good choice because it melts slower. Have serving utensils on hand for every food item so that picnickers don’t have to use their hands. Touching food can transmit bacteria. Bring hand sanitizer and make sure everyone uses it before they eat.

When packing the cooler, wrap each food item securely and separately. You don’t want meat touching cheese or raw food coming in contact with cooked foods or produce. And when cooking, use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked foods. One of the biggest culprits of foodborne bacteria is perishable food that becomes warm. When transporting food, keep it in the air-conditioned car instead of the hot trunk. Keep dishes containing mayonnaise, eggs, cheese, meats, or fish in the refrigerator or cold on ice until ready to serve. To keep food cold while serving, place bowls filled with the food in larger bowls that are filled with ice.

Keep food covered while you enjoy the picnic. This will keep bugs or debris from contaminating the food. Produce that has not been properly washed can cause a foodborne illness. Wash all produce; even produce that has a peel or skin that you can remove. Before you pack washed produce, be sure to pat it dry thoroughly. Moisture is a host for bacteria.

To minimize foodborne illness from meats, cook them medium well to well done. To be extra safe, use a meat thermometer to check doneness. Once your cold food has been unrefrigerated for two hours or more, discard it. The same applies to cooked food that has been sitting out. Discard it after two hours. Don’t worry that you’re tossing out good food - you most likely are keeping your friends and family safe from a foodborne illness.

I hope these summer safety tips help you and your family members stay healthy over the summer. If you want to learn more, the kidshealth.org web site has a wealth of information about health and safety, and is a great resource. Enjoy the great Georgia outdoors and have an amazing summer!

Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.