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01-09-2011 | Internal medicine | Article

Educating children can reduce parents’ heart disease risk


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MedWire News: A multidisciplinary educational program in cardiovascular disease prevention directed at school-age children can significantly reduce their parents' risk for developing the condition, Brazilian research shows.

"Cardiovascular prevention could have more success focusing on children first, inducing healthier lifestyle habits in the whole family," remarked lead investigator Luciana Fornari (University of Sao Paulo) at the 2011 European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris, France.

Fornari and team studied the impact of the program in a group of 197 children aged 6 to 10 years and their 323 parents.

The study participants were divided into a control group that included 161 parents with a mean age of 39 years and an intervention group that included 162 parents with a mean age of 38 years.

Children in the control group were provided with written educational material to give to their parents at the beginning and in the middle of 2010. The material included information about benefits of healthy lifestyle, such as fat- and sugar-free nutrition, the importance of physical exercise, and avoidance of tobacco.

Children in the intervention group received the same educational material for their parents and also attended a weekly educational program in cardiovascular prevention that aimed to teach to these children, in an age-appropriate manner, concepts of healthy nutrition, tobacco avoidance, and the importance of physical exercise.

The program, delivered by a multidisciplinary team, included educational films and plays, and discussion about healthy lifestyles. The children were encouraged to write stories, draw, and paint about what they had learned. They also participated in practical cooking sessions where they learnt to make healthy juices and sandwiches, and could discuss the contents of different kinds of food and how to make healthy choices with nutritionists. Parents and children could also take part in family bike rides and Olympic style events.

At the beginning and 1 year later the researchers collected weight, height, waist circumference, arterial blood pressure, and laboratory data from the children and their parents. The participants also completed a nutrition and exercise survey before and after the study.

Fornari and team inputted the data into the Framingham Heart Study risk assessment tool and calculated that 11 (6.8%) parents in the intervention group and 15 (9.3%) parents in the control group had an intermediate or high (>10%) 10-year risk for cardiovascular disease at baseline.

After 1 year, only one parent in the intervention group had an intermediate or high 10-year risk for cardiovascular disease, compared with 13 parents in the control group, which equates to respective 91% and 13% relative reductions in the proportion of patients at intermediate or high cardiovascular risk.

Fornari and co-authors conclude that "cardiovascular prevention programs could be more effective if children were involved in the awareness/changing process."

By Laura Dean

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