Feature | Talking to Kids About Heart Healthy Living

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After many years of working with patients post-cardiac surgery, and then cardiology, and even in cardiac rehabilitation, it became increasingly clear that at least part of the answer to heart disease is preventing it. We need to focus on teaching our communities those things that they can exert some control over, and we need to start early. Secondary prevention is important, but I would rather have less of it to worry about. Wouldn't you?

Primary prevention needs to start in the primary grades. I have spoken to high school and junior high school students, and felt perhaps I influenced one or two to make better dietary choices or to quit (or not start) smoking. However, it wasn't until I spoke to students in 2nd, 3rd and 5th grade that I finally realized this.

The potential impact we can have on the next generation, when we start educating young and continue to reinforce heart health throughout the school curriculum, is limitless. As a nation, we are not quite there, but we as practitioners can get out to our communities and impact as many as possible.

Fortunately there are many resources available to help us. We don't have to be experts in education to reach out to our communities. In my school lectures I talk about nutrition, exercise and avoidance of smoking. Breaking it up into three separate presentations may be even more helpful. Targeting healthy diets can be aided from some of the following:

  • CardioSmart, ACC's patient education and empowerment initiative, offers information on healthy living, including eating better, getting more exercise and knowing your numbers. The website also features infographics and video resources for patients to learn more about prevention. Visit CardioSmart.org for more information.
  • The American Heart Association's program called, "Life's Simple 7 for Kids", which even includes a list for parents of healthy foods under $1 perserving. Go to the program website elementary school lesson plans and materials on all topics.
  • Project Heart from the Texas Heart Institute also has a wealth of information for educators, including lesson plans by grade for K – 6th, plus instructional guides and grade-level quizzes.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture has an interactive website for parents and kids, as well as resources for teaching. Go to www.choosemyplate.gov/kids and click on'parents and educators' for teacher's guides in three levels for grades 1 – 6 and individual lessons with printable worksheets for kids. There are also resources for high school student lessons and many others under the professionals section. Some topics are available in many languages.
  • The National Institutes for Health's website has some of my personal favorite tools to use with young children. The "We Can!" program focuses on healthy weight, eating right and getting active. The kids I taught loved the"Go, Slow, and Whoa" concept to understand the quality of foods they consume, and it was a message that I found stuck with them. There are materials to empower kids to teach their families with a downloadable chart,"U R What U Eat", as well as information on"portion distortion" for tackling overeating and obesity, with downloadable serving size cards, and nutrition facts tip sheets and quizzes. They even provide slide shows in .pdf or PowerPoint formats you can use.

I'm sure if you search some more, you will find even more helpful resources. So, no excuses – get out and teach our youth! Good luck and have fun!

This article was authored by Sharon Levasseur, RN, BSN, MSN, ARNP-BC, a member of the CV Team Member Section.