October 3, 2007 / 4:59 PM / 12 years ago

"Healthy Buddies" teach lifestyle lessons to kids

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A school-based healthy lifestyle program appears to improve the attitudes elementary school children have toward healthy foods and physical activity, study findings suggest.

Over one school year, participants in the “Healthy Buddies” program, boosted their physical activity levels, gained less weight, and showed smaller increases in blood pressure, compared with age-matched counterparts not enrolled in the program, the study found.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Chanoine, of British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital, Vancouver, Canada and colleagues enlisted two public elementary schools to participate in a comparative study of their Healthy Buddies program.

In the intervention school, teachers taught healthy-living lessons — the value of being physically active, eating healthy foods, and having a positive body image — to students in grades 4 to 7. These older students then paired with students in kindergarten to grade 3 to teach them similar healthy-living lessons.

The other elementary school served as a control and underwent no intervention, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.

After one school year, assessments of students’ knowledge of healthy living showed an increased overall understanding of healthy diet and behaviors in the intervention school compared with the control school.

“Younger kids learn very efficiently from their older peers,” Chanoine noted in comments to Reuters Health.

Although weight and body mass index (a measure of weight in relation to height) increased in 4th through 7th graders in both the control and intervention groups, the increase was significantly lower in the students in the intervention group.

“This suggests that that the increase in healthy knowledge, health attitude, and health behavior and/or the increase in physical activity achieved through the implementation of the Healthy Buddies program may have caused a smaller increase in weight and BMI,” the authors offer.

Students in the Healthy Buddies program had lesser increases in systolic blood pressure compared with controls. In the intervention school, kindergarten through grade 3 students increased systolic blood pressure by only 1.0 mm Hg on average, while students in grades 4 to 7 showed no increase.

By contrast, control school students in kindergarten to grade 3 experienced a significant 5.4 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure, on average, and control students in grades 4 to 7 averaged 4.0 mm Hg increases in systolic blood pressure.

This novel, peer-led program, Chanoine noted, requires no additional staff, fits the usual school curriculum, and targets all kids, whether underweight or overweight. The Healthy Buddies program is currently being evaluated in another 40 schools in British Columbia.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, October 2007

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