New research findings show that a specially designed educational program for third and fourth grade children significantly lowers cholesterol levels in just eight weeks. Other cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors related to blood pressure and physical inactivity are also reduced. Furthermore, the program is more effective when implemented in the classroom than when it is targeted solely at small groups within the class who show CVD risks.
Called the Cardiovascular Health In Children study (CHIC), the investigation was led by Joanne Harrell, PhD, RN, of the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and sponsored by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), NIH. The findings from the CHIC study are described in the August 3 issue of PEDIATRICS.
This is the first study to test the program on children with at least two CVD risk factors and to compare the effectiveness of a classroom-wide program with a program providing more individualized interventions. These findings suggest the need for policy changes at the elementary school level to place new emphasis on health and physical activities that can reduce CVD in childrens later lives. The cost-effectiveness of the classroom approach is an added benefit, since the more individualized approach requires additional staff resources and is more difficult to integrate into the school day.
A number of studies already indicate that heart disease can begin in childhood, which underscores the critical importance of reaching children early to instill healthy habits, said Patricia A. Grady, PhD, RN, Director of the NINR. Furthermore, risk factors developed at an early age tend to remain throughout adulthood, where they can cause heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. Dr. Harrells investigation provides encouraging evidence that we can act to counter these prevalent conditions -- starting with our children. And we can do it with limited resources.