Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Travel Nutrition: D-Lightful News!

Sunlight is good for your health before and during travel. That's me above, working in the sun and getting my Vitamin D.

As our days become shorter and nights longer, I am reminded about the need for vitamin D, which is lacking in many adults and youth in the United States. This sunshine vitamin is actually a hormone that regulates calcium and bone health. It has also been shown to decrease the risk of common cancers, autoimmune diseases, and heart disease. In addition, Vitamin D plays a key role in protecting your immune system and cells.

It is exceedingly beneficial to have adequate vitamin D levels prior to and during travel in order to stay healthy. The great thing about traveling abroad is that many of the countries your Student Ambassador explores allow for higher amounts of vitamin D absorption from sunlight. Furthermore, the travel itinerary involves spending vast amounts of time outdoors, so your Student Ambassador can maintain healthy vitamin D levels during travel.

The table below shows current suggested adequate intake levels for various age groups.* (Please note: obesity requires 2-3 times more Vitamin D than the levels listed below.)

Child's AgeAdequate IntakeSafe Upper Limits
0-1 years
400-1,000 IU
2,000 IU
1-12 years
1,000-2,000 IU
5,000 IU
13+ years
1,500-2,000 IU 10,000 IU

Why is there a prevalence of vitamin D deficiency?

In the United States, typical diets provide about 100 IU per day. Additionally, our bodies do not make vitamin D in the winter due to a low UV index, so anyone living north of Atlanta (or 35 degrees latitude) may be deficient. Fatty fish such as salmon, catfish, and tuna - along with eggs - are a few of the rare natural food sources of vitamin D. Other good sources include milk, yogurt, and cereal because these foods are typically fortified with this vitamin. If you take supplemental vitamin D, it is important to be sure that it is in the form of vitamin D3.

Tips to assure your Student Ambassador gets enough vitamin D pre-travel:
  • Drink 3 glasses of milk per day
  • Take a daily multivitamin with 2000 IU of vitamin D3
  • Take your multivitamin with milk or yogurt for better absorption
  • Spend 10-15 minutes in the sunlight every day, with your arms and legs exposed, without sun protection
For more information on Vitamin D, visit KidsHealth.org.

*Current suggested intake levels were established by Michael J. Holick, PhD, MD: Professor of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics; Director of General Clinical Research Unit; Director of the Bone Health Care Clinic and Heliotherapy, Light and Skin Research Center at Boston University Medical Center

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

Friday, September 24, 2010

Navigating the Health Form, a Vital Step in Your Child's Safety

The health form is one of the most important aspects of enrolling with People to People Ambassador Programs. I asked Wendy Armes, our Supervisor of the Health and Safety Team, to shed light on the form - and our medical review process. The following is a guest blog post from Wendy (pictured at left). Enjoy!
- Mike Bowers, Senior Director of Health & Safety

The importance of a Health Form
Without question, filling out the health form is one of the most important steps in preparing your child for his/her upcoming adventure. Assessing health forms is one of several procedures we use to make sure your child is safe while on one of our life-changing travel programs. Our team requires a health form be submitted for every single student who will travel. Even our teacher leaders must submit this important form before they travel on one of our programs!

Why does this form matter? The health form provides parents or legal guardians the opportunity to disclose any medical conditions, allergies or dietary requests that affect the well-being of your child. This information is vital in preparing for your child to travel safely - and their safety is our number one priority.

[Above, a picture of the rest of our medical team members at a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: Kenna Powel, Mary Wilbur, Audra Krislock, Jeanne McKelvy and Viki Erdman]

In addition to past and present health conditions, we also ask for the following information:
  • Medical insurance: The insurance policy you purchase for the program is considered the primary provider while on program.

  • Emergency contact information: This is the phone number we will call (if necessary) while your student is on program.

  • Student’s cell phone number: Many of our students bring mobile phones on their travel experiences, and we keep their cell numbers on hand.

    Cell Phone Options: If you would like to rent a phone for the program - and be able to check in with your child at any time - we have a partner program that offers reasonable rates.

    Additionally, we offer phone options that allow you to track your child's adventure by a GPS device built into the phone. Alternatively, if you don't want your child to use a mobile phone during travel, you can subscribe to a service that tracks the teacher leader's phone via GPS. (Every People to People Ambassador Program delegation has a GPS phone on the program.)

  • Authorization: The form also has an authorization section that allows for People to People Ambassador Programs to seek medical treatment for your child, in the highly unlikely event it is needed during the program. This authorization also grants permission for the medical professional who treats your child, to share important information with us to help manage the situation.
What Happens After You Fill Out the Health Form?
After you submit a completed health form, your child's information is evaluated by our medical team. Based on the data provided on the form, the medical team decides whether or not a medical hold is necessary. (No one other than the medical team in the program office has access to this very private information.)

What’s a Medical Hold?
A "medical hold" means we need more information prior to clearing a student for travel. There are more than 300 medical conditions for which we diligently screen - not to deter your student from traveling, but to ensure that we clearly understand their needs before they travel.
  • If a student's form is placed on a medical hold, our medical team members contact the parents or guardians directly to collect additional information. They'll also take time to answer any questions or concerns. The medical team will work with personal physicians as needed, and ensure all leaders (and on-location site staff, if necessary) are aware of any reasonable accommodation our team has developed with the family.

  • If your child needs an accommodation: Our medical team is trained annually on Title III of the American with Disabilities Act Requirements (ADA). We will work directly with you to develop an accommodation that is unique and right for your child. The more time we have, the greater our options are for those accommodations. So we encourage you to contact us immediately if you believe your child will need a reasonable accommodation during travel.

  • Your Privacy Matters: We only share student health information on a “need to know basis,” and our staff is certified in HIPAA laws. Although our organization not required to follow HIPAA standards (we don't provide medical services like a hospital), we still uphold confidentiality standards to protect our students' privacy. We believe this is the right thing to do.
Health Form Due Dates - Beat the Rush!
Health forms are due to your primary leader no later than January 15th of each year. Keep in mind, we collect thousands of health forms every year; the sooner we get your student’s health form, the sooner we can clear him/her for travel. That's why we always tell parents to submit the health form immediately after enrolling your child.

We're Here to Answer Your Questions
Any parent or guardian considering their child's travel adventure will have questions about health and safety. We on the medical team are standing by to address those questions and provide peace of mind.

Please feel free to contact us at any point during this process. We have Spanish speaking staff on the team, and translators within the organization that speak most any language. You can contact our team by phone toll-free at 1-800-669-7882 ext 7555 or email us at Medical.Team@PeopletoPeople.com.

Our team is here to serve you, to learn, to accommodate and to assist in offering the best travel opportunity for your child!


Wendy Armes
Supervisor of Health & Safety and the Medical Team

Monday, September 13, 2010

SYTA: A time to share best practices!

2010 was a great season! However, like all responsible organizations, we must never rest on our success, but continually seek new and innovative ways to improve our safety practices.

One of the ways we accomplish that objective is to participate in industry conferences designed to share ideas and concepts with other educational travel providers.

 Last week I was able to attend the Student Youth Travel Association’s (SYTA) Annual Conference in Sacramento California. The SYTA Conference is considered the premier event for the student and youth travel industry. The event provides educational growth and information sharing to help student travel companies improve product and services, and improve student travel safety at large.

Beyond just attending, I was honored this year, being elected by the active members to serve a two year term on the Board of Directors for the SYTA Association. I am eager to use our practices and learnings from People to People Ambassador Programs across the entire student travel industry to keep all students safer for years to come. That is pretty darn exciting to me!

[Updated: Here's a photo of me giving my speech at the conference. Photo credit: John C. O'Malley]

It was great to participate and be among such great company. The conference started off with a welcome brunch that was sponsored (again) by the wonderful people at Disney Theatrical. This year they brought along a very special guest to speak with us about accomplishing the impossible: Mary Lou Retton. Mary Lou did a wonderful job of sharing the challenges a young girl from Fairmount, West Virginia, faced during her pursuit of winning an Olympic Gold medal, which she did during the Summer Game in Los Angeles in 1984.

[Mary Lou Retton promotional photo]

The balance of the conference was filled with many speakers covering updates on industry safety insurance, including Dr. Ron Fortune, CEO of Education.com. By participating in this conference, we are able to learn and share best industry practices and also help shape future policies and regulations that will impact the educational travel industry.

I look forward to serving the SYTA well and continuing to learn from some of the best companies in the student travel industry.

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Duty Officers: A Key Investment in Student Safety

As I've previously discussed, People to People Ambassador Programs staffs our Delegate Care center with associates who answer the phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We need this coverage during the summer travel season. (The rest of the year, our call center associates stand-at-the-ready from 6:00am - 6:00pm PST to assist families interested in our enrollment process.)

We also staff a Duty Officer 24/7.
Our Duty Officers are experts in People to People travel programs, and know all the resources and tools that are at their disposal to support our delegations around the world. In other words, they understand the appropriate action and follow-up for each possible situation that can arise during the travel season.

For the 2010 season, we made the decision and investment to employ four full-time Duty Officers. (Up until this season, we had many duty officers that joined us for only a week at a time.)

Here they are, from left to right: Joy Sloane, Jodie Iverson, Holly Hanna and Carla McCaskill.

Having four intensively trained and dedicated people in place for the entire travel season, allows us to provide the best, most consistent response system. Trust me, these folks have heard it all and so when a situation arises they know how to handle it immediately.

Our Duty Officers are also trained to coach teacher leaders when dealing with everything from a minor sore throat to a more serious situation like an appendicitis attack. Fortunately, this year we have just not seen many of the more extreme incidents. We believe the decline in extreme incidents is due to the amount of dedication and work put into revising our procedures, and our investment in expanded leader training - including the training provided to our Duty officers.

Dealing with the Unexpected: Duty Officers in Action
Of course, we did have a few serious situations arise during this most recent travel season. For example:
  • On two separate occasions a student felt a little "off" during the program, so we quickly had them examined by a medical professional. Both were diagnosed as diabetics during the program. Prior to the program they had no knowledge or hint of their diabetes.
  • We also encountered another situation where a student had unusual symptoms. Again we immediately sought a medical expert’s opinion and to everyone’s surprise the student was diagnosed with epilepsy.
  • In all three cases we quickly and efficiently accompanied the student to the medical professional and the problem was discovered. None of these three students had been diagnosed with these problems prior to the program. The great news for all of us is with our skilled team of Duty officers on deck, none of these situations went unnoticed and the problems were quickly discovered and addressed.
I tell you these stories because while on program, people are still people, students are still students and life is real life. Things do come up and problems do surface. I have a 16 and 18 year old at home and I don’t think many days go by without some new adventure or challenge surfacing. What I want you to walk away with after reading this blog post is that, at People to People Ambassador Programs, we understand things come up. We also are committed to continuing to improve the support systems and tools we use to address those events to minimize any possible negative outcome. The investment in four full-time experienced Duty Officers is just one more tangible way of demonstrating that commitment.

Until next time - I’m wishing you safe and happy travels, 

Mike Bowers 

Senior Director of Health and Safety