School program reduces risk of obesity, disease in border community

Children targeted by a school-based exercise and nutrition program are more likely to be physically active and receive healthy meals at school, which in turn may reduce the kids' risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to new research.

The study, published in the August issue of Health Education & Behavior, examines a school program called CATCH in the U.S.-Mexico border city of El Paso, Texas, in an area where low-income families and Mexican cultural influences are both dominant.

"For most intervention schools, El Paso CATCH significantly increased moderate to vigorous physical activity during physical education classes, decreased fat in school meals, and decreased sodium in school breakfasts," report investigators Edward M. Heath, Ph.D., from Utah State University and Karen J. Coleman, Ph.D., from the University of Texas at El Paso.

CATCH -- which stands for the Coordinated Approach to Child Health -- is "the most comprehensive and ambitious approach" aimed at promoting healthy behaviors among school children to be implemented in the past 15 years, Heath and Coleman say. Previous testing at 96 schools nationwide has demonstrated that CATCH can produce significant and lasting improvements in physical activity and dietary behaviors.

Such changes, the authors note, are extremely desirable in light of their ability to reduce risk of costly diseases that are in large part lifestyle-related, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The present study examined the first effort to disseminate the CATCH program to elementary schools throughout the country. "Although the national CATCH [trial] included a large representation of Hispanics these sites were not dominated by the Mexican culture like the El Paso border region" selected as the implementation site, Heath and Coleman note. They cite previous research indicating that physical inactivity and being overweight or obese are especially prevalent amo

Contact: Christian Clarke-Cassarez
Center for the Advancement of Health

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