Many teenagers are heading off to college for the first time in the coming weeks. In our Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold, we discussed some important health topics for college freshmen.
Meghan Kulig: What are a few things college students should think about doing before heading to school?
Dr. Arnold: It's a good idea to see your health care provider before heading off to college. Your health care provider can help make sure your student is up to date on all preventative health care needs, like vaccines. If your student has any significant prior medical issues, now is a good time to get a copy of his or her medical records. If these recur while the student is away at college or a change in treatment is needed, already having a copy of your medical record can help make the transition of care easier.
Meghan Kulig: What are some of the vaccines that the student's health care provider may suggest?
Dr. Arnold: Vaccines are available to help prevent meningitis and pertussis, also called whooping cough. There can be an increased risk of these conditions when living in crowded spaces, like freshmen dorms. Many students are up to date on these vaccines before leaving for college, but it's a good idea to check with your health care provider to make sure you have had the recommended doses. The CDC also recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys and a yearly flu shot.
Meghan Kulig: Heading off to college can mean new freedoms, but also new responsibilities.
Dr. Arnold: Yes, it's a good time to remind your student about the importance of sleep, eating well, and stress management. Not getting enough sleep can put your health at risk by increasing your chances for car wrecks, depressed mood, and peer relationship problems. Sometimes it is tough to find time to exercise and eat right, but these can help reduce school stress.
Meghan Kulig: It's also a good time to talk about tough topics, like alcohol.
Dr. Arnold: Binge drinking is a risk factor for unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and violence. On that note, an intimidating, but important topic to discuss is sexual violence. 1 out of 5 women are rape victims during their lifetime. These can be tough topics for parents, but parents can discuss safety tips like attending social events in groups and the importance of not making decisions under the influence of alcohol.
Meghan Kulig: Any last practical tips?
Dr. Arnold: Make sure your student knows where the health center is on campus, or where to seek care if he or she needs it. Make sure your student has a way to get any necessary prescription medication refills. Also, if your son or daughter is still on a parent's health insurance, they should have a copy of the insurance card and know how about the coverage, for example whether referrals to specialists are needed. Hopefully, they won't need to seek care urgently, but it's always easier to know this information in advance, rather than having to scramble during a health crisis.