Skip to Content

The Heart of the Matter Leader Taryn Lust is the principal investigator on the Middle School Healthy Hearts Study, which is educating seventh graders on the importance of healthy habits in order to prevent heart disease (and then measuring how much of that education actually sticks). In the article below, Lust writes about the ways she and her team are reaching out to tweens, and shares why it’s so important.

The nurse educator holds up a glass containing nearly a dozen sugar cubes and asks the group of seventh graders gathered in their middle school gym, “Do you know a 12 ounce soda contains approximately 11 teaspoons of sugar?”

The students gasp. Many remark “Oh wow.” The youngsters are clearly surprised when they hear how much sugar is actually in a can of soda — especially since many of them reported drinking anywhere from one to three soft drinks per day!

Educating seventh graders about the importance of making healthy choices is the purpose of the Middle School Healthy Hearts Study, the Oregon-based program that I lead that educates seventh graders on how to reduce their risk of heart disease. The study will reach about 1,100 seventh graders in the Portland area by the time it is completed at the end of 2012.

Heart disease prevention can be a hard message for kids to understand, considering they are so young. But it’s an important one.

Heart disease doesn’t happen overnight. We want these tweens to understand what they put into their bodies now can affect their health later in life.

About 27.1 million Americans suffer from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows that obesity is among the driving factors for heart disease, so it’s important people learn healthy habits from a young age.

When we visit schools, my team and I stress the importance of getting 150 minutes of physical activity per week and making healthy food choices. We combine hands on learning with lectures to make it more engaging and drive home the message with the students.

The study is conducted via two classes that are taught by a nurse educator. One class focuses on preventing heart disease by getting the recommended amount of physical activity and eating a heart healthy diet, while the other class focuses on signs and symptoms of heart attack and how to perform hands-only CPR on someone with a cardiac arrest.

Sitting on a gym floor for a 45-minute lecture isn’t easy, but we try to keep it fun. The kids get to cheer on their fellow students midway through the lecture, for example, as they try to match up the correct amount of sugar that is contained in some of the food items we present to them.

Pre, post and follow-up quizzes are then completed by the students to test their knowledge scores. They also complete a 22-question survey on their diet and exercise behavior before the education and two weeks after the education.

The research data is important, because it will show us the impact of the education. We want to prove that kids can learn about disease prevention and then implement the healthy behavior changes in their lives.

Prevention is the best medicine, after all.

Click here to contact Taryn Lust.

Don't miss the rest of the Inside Track! Click here to find out how you or a colleague could win $40,000 for being a leader in promoting health. Also, don't miss a Q&A with the director of Georgia's health department, who shares how the state is getting families into SHAPE. Plus, learn how the Bipartisan Policy Center is helping bring Americans together to fight obesity.