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Children Catch on to Heart-Health Messages

Study Shows Three-Year Maintenance of Improved Diet and Physical Activity

Embargoed for Release:
July 14, 1999, 4:00 PM EDT

Three years after their last formal encounter with elementary school lessons on the benefits of heart-healthy eating and vigorous physical activities, almost four thousand eighth graders in four states report they continue to practice much of what they learned. This follow-up of the CATCH (Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health) Study suggests that health behaviors initiated during the elementary school years persist into early adolescence. The report appears in the July 1999 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

"We have known for a long time that cardiovascular disease risk factors begin developing at a young age," said Dr. Claude Lenfant, NHLBI director, "It is most encouraging to learn that heart-healthy behaviors can be taught to young children and that those lessons will continue to have a positive impact over several years," he said.

CATCH was the largest school-based health promotion study ever done in the U.S. The study, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), National Institutes of Health, took place between 1991 and 1994 in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas and involved nearly 100 ethnically and racially diverse elementary schools. It sought to determine if multicomponent health promotion efforts targeting both children's behaviors and the school environment, including classroom curricula, food service modifications, physical education changes, and family reinforcement, would reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors later in life.

The follow-up study (1995-1998) assessed differences in grades 6, 7, and 8 in diet, physical activity, and related health indicators among 3,714 (73 percent) of the initial CATCH participants. The researchers found that the students who received the health promotion intervention in grades 3 through 5 maintained a diet significantly lower in total fat and saturated fat and continued to pursue more vigorous physical activity levels compared to the students in the control groups. These results suggest that schools can be an important place to help youth establish habits that may help prevent the early onset of cardiovascular disease.

The report's authors also note that the differences between the CATCH intervention and control groups are narrowing over time. The authors suggest that additional research is needed to investigate the best ways to maintain health promotion intervention effects beyond the elementary school level.

"Although the effects of the behavioral intervention persisted over a long period of time," said Philip R. Nader, M.D., the study's lead author and one of its lead investigators, "we found that the effects are beginning to fade. This justifies continuation of school interventions over the middle and high school years."

To speak with Dr. Philip Nader, please call (619) 681-0688. To speak with Dr. Elaine Stone, NHLBI project officer for CATCH, please call the NHLBI Communications Office at 301/496-4236.

Note to Editors: CATCH is already being implemented and on Thursday, July 15, 1999 a special media event will be held in Charlotte, NC to launch a statewide heart health education program which uses CATCH as well as other NHLBI heart healthy program materials. The program, Hearts N' Parks Y2K, is a collaborative effort of the NHLBI, the National Recreation and Park Association, NC State University, and Southern Connecticut University. It is designed to promote the adoption of heart healthy behaviors among children and their families.

The launch will highlight a children's day camp where CATCH will be taught, along with a fitness class for seniors, and a USA Tennis class. A special ceremony with invited guests from throughout the State will also be held. Special events will also be held in most of the 11 other North Carolina communities that are participating in Hearts N' Parks.

The Charlotte event will be held at the Mallow Creek Recreation Center, 2530 Johnston Oehler Road, Charlotte. Telephone (704) 548-8234. Event begins at 11:00 a.m. Lunch will be provided.

NHLBI press releases, fact sheets, and other materials, including information on heart disease, can be found online at

Amy Danzig
Technical Writer-Editor
(301) 496-4236 (phone)
(301) 402-2405 (fax)