Heart Health Heroes

Childhood obesity continues to reach epidemic proportions worldwide. Most kids continue to be very active regardless of their size and let the adults learn from their example. The jury is still out on exactly why the obesity crisis continues even though there are ample research and health promotion initiatives to warn against it. Research in the Healthy Heart Schools’ Program shows that the obesity problem is present in Niagara as much as it is anywhere else. A total of 20,719 students were enrolled in the Healthy Heart Schools’ Program and screened for cardiovascular risk factors from 2002-2008. The proportion of obese children significantly increased from 11% to 13%, at a rate of +0.4% per year. Who can change this trend – health care providers? Not likely. Parents and teachers? Probably.

Health care providers are effective in acute and chronic disease management but apparently not so effective in preventing or managing the obesity epidemic. Health care providers can play a role in supporting parents and also in contributing to public health policy. But, it is the parents and/or teachers who are interacting with kids on a daily basis and have the most influence on their lives.

In the 2013- 2014 school year Heart Niagara contributed over $200,000 worth of services to support parents and teachers in all Niagara school boards by providing heart health assessments and CPR/AED training. A component of the heart health assessment is body size measurement and feedback to the students and parents. Recognizing a health risk is the first step in managing it. Discussing heart health messaging with parents and teachers focuses on: 1) Physical Activity, 2) Portion Size, 3) Nutrition Quality and 4) Tobacco Avoidance. This discussion provides them with current evidence-based knowledge that will help them to communicate healthy lifestyle information to their children and students.

A major concern is that obesity tracks into adulthood and a rise in cardiovascular risk in the adolescent population will likely lead to an epidemic of adults with premature diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Why don’t we smarten up and be healthier as a society? Perhaps the problem is that preventing disease does not seem very heroic compared to rescuing people from heart disease and stroke crises. In reality, parents and teachers are heroes when they can get their kids and students on the right track. Kids are also heroes when they “get it” and are examples for their parents to get on track too.

Don Gibson, Nurse Practitioner
Don is in his 16th year with Heart Niagara and his 30th year in nursing. Don’s main contribution to Heart Niagara is in the areas of heart disease prevention assessment and education, research and clinical services. Don works with parents, teachers, Public Health, researchers and Heart Niagara staff to deliver the Healthy Heart Schools’ Program. Don also provides preventative clinical services to clients with cardiovascular disease and/or the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Don earned his BScN and the Nurse Practitioner – Primary Health Care Certificate at McMaster University in Hamilton. As a health care professional one of Don’s key interest areas is exploring new ways to support parents and teachers in their efforts to improve healthy lifestyle messaging for all students in all grades.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blog entries are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Heart Niagara.

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