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Heart Health Programs Move into Schools


In an effort to counteract an increase in heart problems in children, the American Heart Association is raising its profile on programs schools can use to help students develop good health habits.Included: Examples of American Heart Association programs.

Now that more children are contracting such "adult diseases as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, the American Heart Association is raising the profile of some its educational and physical programs for schools. Education World talked with Dr. Robert H. Eckel, a past president of the American Heart Association, who previously chaired the Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Council and the Nutrition Committee, about some of the heart-health issues facing todays youth. The Heart Association provided additional information about its educational programs.

Dr. Robert H. Eckel

Education World: When and why did such "adult" diseases as high blood pressure and high cholesterol become childrens diseases?

Dr. Robert H. Eckel: The major reason is the obesity epidemic. In the past, genetic disorders explained most of heart problems among children. Those disorders remain, but now obesity and related insulin resistance adds to the burden.

EW: How can school staff determine which children might be most at risk for those health problems?

Eckel: Begin by looking at the child's body weight. But then, the school needs to work closely with parents and health care professionals to take it to the next level.

EW: How can teachers help students make the connection between diet and good heart health?

Eckel: Begin by reviewing school meals, vending machine contents, and mandatory physical education. The programs listed below as well as after school programs also might be helpful if resources and volunteers are available.

EW: What types of educational programs and materials does the American Heart Association provide for classroom teachers?

American Heart Association: Nearly one-third, or about 31,000, of the nations schools participate in the American Heart Associations Jump Rope for Heart or Hoops For Heart programs. Jump and Hoops work with elementary and middle schools respectively to teach students such lifelong physical activity skills as jumping rope and playing basketball; promote community service by raising funds to support lifesaving heart and stroke research; and provide cross-curricular educational content for teachers to educate students about living a heart-healthy life. Among those educational topics are the workings of the heart, benefits of proper nutrition and physical activity, ways to identify a heart attack and stroke, the dangers of tobacco, measuring a pulse rate, and controllable and preventable risk factors for heart disease.

"Nearly one-third, or about 31,000, of the nation’s schools participate in the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope or Hoops For Heart programs."

The NFL Play 60 Challenge provides classroom resources, targeted at middle school teachers, to get students physically active for the recommended daily 30 minutes in school and 30 minutes at home. The resource includes information and activities for the NFL Play 60 Challenge, a six-week in-school push to get every student active for 60 minutes per day; ideas for how to incorporate physical activity breaks into the classroom without equipment; and ideas for assigning "active homework" to get students active outside of school.

Other programs include the Alliance for a Healthier Generations Healthy Schools Program, which works with schools across the country to create environments where physical activity and healthful eating are accessible and encouraged. By working with school and community leaders, the program focuses on instituting systemic changes that support physical activity, nutrition, and staff wellness.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generations empowerME4Life is a free, eight-session healthful living course targeted at kids 8-12 for use in after-school settings. Each session is grounded in the American Heart Associations recommendations for promoting heart-healthy lifestyles for youth including physical activity and good nutrition.

EW:What are some activities and/or programs the Heart Association recommends for schools to promote good heart health in children, starting when they are very young?

"Influencing and enhancing the ability of schools to provide healthy environments is one of the most effective ways to shape the health, education, and well-being of our next generation."

American Heart Association: By participating in the Jump Rope and Hoops programs, students learn the importance of heart-healthy lifestyles while participating in service learning and getting physically active. Also, schools should consider enrolling in the Healthy Schools Program. Every school day, 54 million young people attend nearly 123,000 schools across the country. Influencing and enhancing the ability of schools to provide healthy environments is one of the most effective ways to shape the health, education, and well-being of our next generation. By participating in the Healthy Schools Program, schools can create environments where there are consistent and clear messages that physical activity and healthy eating are important and encouraged -- in the classroom, cafeteria, gym, hallway, and schoolyard.

This e-interview with Dr. Robert Eckel and the American Heart Association is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Published 02/02/2010