Teach a Girl to Promote Health and Wellness
Louisiana consistently ranks in the lower quartile for overall health care in the nation, and as a future cardiologist, these statistics alarm me. Whether addressing health literacy, medication adherence, or encouraging lifestyle modification through diet and exercise, something needed to change.
The idea of Teach a Girl: Blood Pressure (TAG:BP), which aims to educate girls ages 9 to 11 about hypertension and its effects on cardiovascular disease, was inspired by Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, MACC's efforts to educate preschool-aged children about cardiovascular disease and the role of lifestyle in Columbia and Spain. Ideally, health awareness starts in the home and serves as triggers for behavioral change.
Why did we choose to educate young women? Without discounting the impact men have in families and our community, women often first identify an illness within the family, administer at-home care, and call upon external expertise or seek specialist care when it is required. This offers a novel opportunity for women to significantly – and positively – influence the health of their family. Targeting young girls is important because these are the informative years when girls start to develop complex thought processes and learn concepts that may become engrained in the long term. So, education about health behaviors is important at a time when our youth is learning to make health-conscious choices.
This was the basis for the ACC Louisiana Chapter's 2020 Women in Cardiology grant to raise awareness among young girls about hypertension. The TAG:BP team recruited junior girls scout troop volunteers from the local region. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the curriculum was adapted to a virtual platform.
Between fall 2020 and spring 2021, five troops consisting of over 30 girls participated in four hands-on sessions involving learning the basics of cardiac anatomy, physiology and end-organ complications relating to hypertension. They learned how to measure blood pressure on each other, how to read nutrition labels and how to motivate their family members to participate in regular physical activity.
Participants made posters, videos and presentations showcasing their new knowledge about hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Pre- and post-intervention surveys confirmed a significant improvement in understanding of what hypertension is, how to measure blood pressure and long-term cardiovascular effects of uncontrolled hypertension.
TAG:BP is a powerful tool to enhance understanding of cardiovascular disease prevention and can be tailored to different age groups. Moreover, TAG:BP brings together volunteers from all levels of medical training including medical students, residents, fellows, and attendings and provides a framework for effective mentorship.
Three important women were integral to the success of this project: Desiree McCombs, and Neiki Amiri-Razavian, medical school students at the University of Queensland Ochsner Clinical School, and Iman N. Malik, MD, now a resident in Portland, OR. Together they developed a curriculum that would be understood by young children. Neiki recalled, "you learn that you truly have a grasp of a concept when you can teach it in an elementary school language." Neiki and Iman created an activity book that was filled with word searches, fill-in-the-blanks and pictures reinforcing terminology and concepts from the curriculum. Desiree designed a hands-on model the girls could play with to explain physiology of blood flow, how heart valves work and why aneurysms burst. When the term "systolic" was equated with squeezing and "diastolic" with relaxing, I was personally impressed by how quickly young girls grasp complex concepts of blood pressure. It was really inspiring to be able to contribute to educating the next generation of young women about the importance of lifestyle factors in preventing heart disease. If only adults could be as easily convinced!
As we look to the future, we hope to incorporate this curriculum into the local schools to reach a larger audience and to ensure heart health awareness forms a part of routine education. We hope to welcome more students, residents and fellows to participate with hands-on sessions and help tackle heart disease prevention at the grassroots level. We are grateful for the support of the ACC in sponsoring this initiative!
Visit CardioSmart.org for information for patients about high blood pressure and more.
This article was authored by Tripti Gupta, MD, cardiology FIT at Ochsner Clinical Foundation. Twitter: @T_GuptaMD.
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