It’s never too early to teach children about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, according to results of a study that increased healthy lifestyle choices among preschool students.
Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study tested a unique healthy lifestyle program at schools in Madrid, Spain. Known as the SI! Program, the intervention was designed to instill healthy behaviors in children by teaching them about diet, physical activity and how the body and heart work. Since lifestyle habits develop early in life, researchers hoped that educating children early on about the importance of staying active and eating healthy might improve their future health.
A total of 24 public schools participated in the study, half of which offered the SI! Program while the other half implemented the usual preschool curriculum. The study lasted three years and included more than 2,000 preschool students between 3–5 years old. Each year, trained psychologists asked students about their knowledge, attitudes and habits related to healthy lifestyle choices. Based on responses, researchers assigned students with an overall “health” score and tracked changes in scores over the three-year study.
After analysis, researchers found that health scores were 5% higher in children that participated in the SI! Program compared to the usual curriculum. The biggest improvements in score were due to changes in knowledge, attitudes and habits related to physical activity. And the longer a student participated in the SI! Program, the more significant his or her improvement in health score. Students in the intervention group were also more likely to lose weight than those in the control group, based on changes in skinfold measurements.
Based on findings, authors believe that interventions like the SI! Program could be the key to combatting childhood obesity and even heart disease. Major risk factors for heart disease like obesity and diabetes can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices. Habits like diet and exercise are formed at a very early age but carry into adulthood. By educating children early about the importance of healthy lifestyle choices, experts hope to instill healthy habits that can improve heart health in adulthood.