Teaching kids early about the benefits of exercise and eating right can have a lasting impact, according to a new University of Michigan study of elementary school children.
The study, presented at a recent meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago, found kids who participated in a 10-week training program designed to get kids to make healthier food and beverage choices in the school cafeteria and vending machines had marked reductions in several heart disease risk factors.
"To see this kind of an impact in such a short period of time is pretty encouraging, and something that distinguishes it from other childhood obesity programs," said lead researcher Taylor Eagle. "Teaching these kids heart-healthy lessons clearly makes a real difference, and it could affect their lives forever. It's also important for controlling health care costs down the road because children who are obese in childhood are much more likely to be obese in their adulthood."
The 10-week program centered around five goals: Getting the kids to eat more fruits and vegetables; make better beverage choices; perform at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week; eat less fats and fatty food; and spend less mindless time in front of the TV and computer.
Researchers used surveys to gather information about health behaviors from 2,048 sixth-graders in more than 20 Southeast Michigan schools. They also conducted a variety of health tests of students’ vital signs before and after the program.
At the end of the 10 weeks, researchers found participants experienced a drop in blood pressure, LDL “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar. The kids also had better dietary habits, reported consuming more fruits and vegetables, became more physically active, spent less time in front of the TV and/or computer and more time playing intramural sports.
""We are not going to solve childhood obesity epidemic without raising awareness and engaging communities," said Dr. Elizabeth Jackson, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan. "This program could be implemented in any middle school in the U.S. – at the very least it gives every child basic skills which can be used to make improvements in key health behaviors, and may result in long-term healthier lifestyles."