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Teaching Preschoolers Healthy Lifestyle Habits Can lower Risk For Heart Disease, Study Says

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that introducing healthy lifestyle habits to kids at a young age can lower their risk of developing heart disease later in life. Healthy lifestyle habits include staying active, eating five portions of fruits/vegetables, and reducing overall salt intake. 

“The SI! Program (Salud Integral – Comprehensive Health) was developed as a multilevel and multi-component school-based program for the promotion of cardiovascular health and achieving lasting lifestyle changes in children from preschool age. It was implemented in three countries from the year 2009 onwards,” said Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, general director at Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC), director of Mount Sinai Heart and principal investigator of the project.

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The authors reviewed the results which were taken over a period of 10 years, and surveyed more than 3,800 children aged between three to five from 50 schools across Colombia, Spain, and the US. The children were mainly assessed on how their knowledge, habits, and attitudes changed towards a healthy lifestyle. 

Those who participated in the program itself showed a significant increase in knowledge, attitude, and habits that support a healthy lifestyle. Fuster explained that they were able to analyze the success of the program by focusing on the maturation of the children, and changing the questionnaires to adapt with them as they get older. 

Children who received more than 75% of the program had a significant change from the baseline of their overall knowledge, attitudes, and habits, especially when compared to the children who received less than 50% of the program. 

 “The school environment is a great area to introduce healthy lifestyle interventions because children are spending so much of their time there,”  said Rodrigo Fernández-Jiménez, MD, PhD, and author on the study. 

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“There are specific times in a child’s life when improvements can be made to enhance long-term cardiovascular health status. Our review, and previous studies, suggest that four to five years of age is the most favorable time to start a school-based intervention focused on healthy habits.”

“Most preschool interventions focus solely on physical activity and diet. The SI! Program breaks down cardiovascular health into four components. Through the first two components, children are learning how a well-balanced diet and physically active life are directly connected to a healthy heart. Next, they learn about emotion management, which seeks to instill behavior mechanisms against substance abuse – mainly smoking – and dietary decisions later in life. Finally, the children are taught about how the human body works and how it is affected by behavior and lifestyle,” said Gloria Santos-Beneit, PhD, and lead author of the study.

In the future, the authors hope to put a greater focus on the involvement of the families of the children in the study. Socioeconomic status has a major influence on how easy it can be for a child and family to maintain healthy lifestyle habits, so the authors of the study are looking for ways to intervene and make it more accessible to them. 

“Further research is needed to identify specific socioeconomic status factors that influence child health and effectiveness of intervention in the long term, and the issue of sustainability or need for re-intervention,” Fuster said.

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Biden To Call For Universal Preschool As Part Of New Family Plan 

President Joe Biden is set to deliver his first joint address to Congress this week, where he is planning on calling for universal preschool as a part of his American Families Plan. According to his administration Biden is looking to make a major “investment in our kids,” and will be laying out how his proposal will help families with basic expenses. 

White House officials claim that the administration has held briefings with key senators to discuss the details of the proposal itself. The child care proposal comes after Biden began enforcing the American Relief stimulus packages to help aid Americans struggling to make ends meet with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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According to the White House Biden will be calling for a national partnership among all the states to provide free, high quality, accessible preschool care to all 3 and 4-year-old children. Once fully implemented, the act will help more than 5 million children and save the average family $13,000. 

The $200 billion investment is set to prioritize more underprivileged areas first, as these have been the hardest within the past year. The main goal is to give every family the freedom to decide where they want their child to go to preschool without worrying about the cost. The plan will also work to ensure all publicly-funded preschools are high quality, meaning they have a low student-to-teacher ratio, offer a developmentally appropriate curriculum, and create an overall supportive environment that is inclusive for all students. 

According to reports from CBS news, “the president is seeking to leverage tuition-free community college and teacher scholarships to support those who wish to earn a bachelor’s degree or another credential that supports their work as an educator, or to become an early childhood educator. Educators will also receive job-embedded coaching, professional development, and wages that reflect the importance of their work.”

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All employees working in pre-k programs and Head Start will earn a wage of at least $15 an hour as a part of the American Families Plan. Additionally those with the proper qualifications will receive compensation commensurate with kindergarten educators. 

Currently the average child care worker earns $11.65 an hour, so the inclusion of these financial provisions for workers will hopefully work to bring back some of the thousands of child care workers who were forced to leave the labor force due to the pandemic. 

Studies have shown that kids who participate in pre-K are more likely to take honors classes and are less likely to repeat a grade while kids in lower-income areas do better once they reach middle school. This is due to a multitude of educational inequality issues within America, but a lot of it roots back to the access most children have to preschool programs. 

“Together, these plans reinvest in the future of the American economy and American workers, and will help us out-compete China and other countries around the world.”

This proposal, along with the proposals for the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan, will include a tax increase for major corporations and the wealthiest 1% of Americans.