According to recent findings, vigorous exercise and health education classes in the adolescents can cut their blood cholesterol levels and reduce their risk of developing heart disease later in life. This comes from a study which is part of the larger continuing Cardiovascular Health in Children study, a unique effort in North Carolina to learn about improving children's - and later adults' - heart and lung health. This study used 600 middle-school students, ages 11 to 14, from five rural North Carolina schools in three counties.
According to one of the researchers, "I don't think most parents realize how little actual physical activity their children get at school nowadays. Most middle-aged and older people in this country were far more active when they were children than kids are now."
In this study, subjects were divided into four groups. During the 1995-96 school year, they received both physical activity and classroom training, either one or the other intervention, or neither. Physical activity was vigorous and sustained three times a week but did not require special sports skills. Classroom teaching focused on nutrition, fitness, not smoking, blood pressure and other topics.
Researchers measured fat levels in the blood of children before and after completing the program. Among middle-schoolers in the combined group, total cholesterol dropped an average of 10.6 milligrams per deciliter and LDL dropped 8.7 milligrams per deciliter.
"We conclude that the combination of both a knowledge and attitude program and a physical activity program was highly effective in improving lipid [fat in the blood] profiles in this group of adolescents, Our work is important because the few studies that have been done before on this looked at younger children and none has tested older children the way we did."
- American Heart Association Conference, Santa Fe, New Mexico - March 19, 1998.