Back-to-school to-do lists are likely on most parents’ minds these days. Besides shopping for school supplies, it is important to remember to schedule your child’s yearly visit with their doctor. These annual visits were likely routine when your child was younger, however, they are still important as your child grows into a pre-teen or teenager. For children ages 12 and older, this visit is now called an adolescent well-care visit, and is more than a sport physical.

Moving into and through adolescence can be overwhelming for everyone, but especially your child. At a well-care visit your health-care provider will review growth, and talk about nutrition and physical activity. Teens are surrounded by confusing messages from social media and peers about unhealthy choices. This visit can provide the guidance teens need to make good decisions for their bodies and health.

Since August is National Immunization Awareness Month, this well-care visit is also a good time to review your teen’s vaccine history. Making sure that children of all ages receive vaccinations on time is one of the most important things parents can do to ensure their children’s long-term health, as well as the health of their friends, classmates and others in the community. The good news is most Vermonters choose to vaccinate their children. Close to 92% of Rutland County children enter kindergarten with all their required vaccinations.

Vaccinations are an effective way to help prevent dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases. Several are recommended for teens, including one that protects against human papillomavirus (HPV). About 14 million Americans become infected every year with HPV. It is so common that four out of five people will get it at some point in their lives. HPV is linked to several cancers that can affect children in adulthood. There are 33,000 cases of HPV-related cancer each year. Luckily, there is an effective vaccine that can prevent 90% of HPV-related cancers. Within the first four years of introducing the HPV vaccine, the rate of HPV infection fell 56% among teen girls, yet only 60% of Vermont girls and only 51% of boys have completed the HPV vaccine series. Children age 11-12 years are recommended to start the two-shot series, and those 13-26 years who have yet to begin, should also receive this vaccination. Help prevent cancer; ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine when you schedule an adolescent well-care visit.

What can you expect at a well-care visit? It is important to allow your teen privacy with the doctor to freely discuss any health issues. This means that you, as a parent, will likely not be in the exam room the entire time. The visit allows your teen to talk about sensitive topics which could include drugs and alcohol, eating disorders, depression, puberty and sexuality.

Be sure to put an adolescent well-care visit on your back-to-school list, and ask about vaccinations. And join us in viewing the film “Someone you love; the HPV Epidemic” at Rutland’s Flagship Cinema later in September.

For more information about childhood or adult immunizations, contact Yvonne Boire at the Vermont Dept of Health, 802-786-5102 or visit healthvermont.gov.

This week’s Health Talk was written by Bethany Yon, chronic disease prevention specialist at the Vermont Department of Health.

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