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Catch ’em young to build a strong heart

Several cardiologists have come together to evaluate and minimise risks of cardiac ailments and related diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, by reaching out to adolescent schoolchildren and their guardians.

The Cardiology Society of India’s Bengal branch, in association with the Mission Arogya Health and Information Technology Research Foundation, has embarked on a school-based cardiovascular health awareness programme among Class IX students and their guardians in Calcutta.

The programme, called Cardiovascular Risk Reduction Intervention among adolescent School-students (CRRIS), was launched last year at 12 schools, including St. Xavier’s Collegiate School, St. Lawrence High School, Hindu School, Ballygunge Government High School, Delhi Public School (Ruby Park) and Abhinav Bharati High School (Pretoria Street).

“The schools were selected randomly from a list of 420 schools. The school education department was approached for administrative support. We did a baseline collection of information from mothers and students regarding socio-demographic, behavioural, nutritional and medical aspects,” said the programme’s principal investigator, Soumitra Kumar. “We also conducted medical check-ups at schools.”

According to the Society, nearly 700 students and 580-odd mothers took part in the programme’s first leg.

Over the next couple of months, the programme will be extended to 14 more schools, including Delhi Public School (New Town), Sri Shikshayatan, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, La Martiniere for Girls, La Martiniere for Boys, Modern High School for Girls and Patha Bhavan. It will eventually be extended to schools across Bengal.

“After the baseline programme and check-ups, we are conducting audio-visual presentations, along with interactive motivational and informative discussions by experts, to generate awareness and encourage behavioural changes to help the students adopt better lifestyles, nutritional practice and cope with stress,” said Kumar.

The exercise, Kumar said, is aimed at minimising the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

“We are trying to catch them young. In order to prevent cracks in future, you need to make sure the foundation is solid and the construction is done properly. By guiding the adolescents, we hope to achieve something similar, so that their bodies remain fit and free from cardiovascular diseases through their 30s, 40s and 50s,” said Kumar.

The Society hopes for greater participation in future. “A lot of schools showed interest but some of them did not show enough initiative. It needs to be impressed upon those running the system that over-nutrition, for instance, is as serious a threat as under-nutrition,” said Kumar.

According to data available with the Society, the percentage of obese adolescents in the city has risen from five in 1974 to 17 in 2014.

The goal, Kumar said, is to find out whether perception and behavioural attitude pertaining to cardiovascular diseases and related risk factors like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and smoking can be influenced significantly through motivation and education.

“If we succeed, the government and the relevant departments could be approached to incorporate such educational materials in the curriculum on a mandatory basis, like environmental science at the plus-II level,” said Kumar.