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November 10, 1998

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More Than Half Of Children Eat Too Much Fat

More than half of a group of children surveyed by Johns Hopkins get too many of their daily calories from fat, according to a new study. Ten percent of the children exceed the daily recommended levels of cholesterol.

"While most people wait until adulthood to worry about cardiovascular disease, the habits we form as children can make a difference in how we fare in this difficult fight," says Kerry J. Stewart, Ed.D., lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. "Because cardiovascular disease begins in childhood, we urge parents to take a second look at what their children are eating."

Results of the study will be presented at 9:30 a.m., Nov. 10, at the American Heart Association's 71st annual Scientific Sessions in Dallas.

To assess whether children were meeting the recommendations established in 1991 by the National Cholesterol Education Program, researchers studied the 24-hour diet records of Boy and Girl Scouts (145 girls and 158 boys) ages 8 to 14 in the Baltimore area. More than half of the children exceeded the daily recommended levels for total fat intake.

The researchers looked at the different types of fat children consumed -- saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. More than half of the children exceeded recommended levels of the "undesirable" saturated fats found in butter, red meat and cheese that can lead to high cholesterol. In addition, about half of the children fell short of the suggested levels of "desirable" monounsaturated fats found in canola and peanut oils. Very few children consumed enough of the polyunsaturated fats found in corn oil and margarine.

"Childhood eating patterns carry into adulthood," Stewart says. "Our goal in working with Scouts is to change these patterns early in life, with the long-term goal of preventing adult heart disease. These findings lay the groundwork for our educational intervention. We must teach children not only to reduce their total fat consumption, but also to change the types of fat they consume."

The study joins several suggesting that teaching children about a healthy lifestyle should be a priority for improving community health and reducing heart disease. In 1989, Hopkins Bayview's Heart Health Department implemented the Food Re-Education Elementary School Health (FRESH) Program, which sends counselors into schools to educate students about the importance of diet and exercise in a healthy lifestyle. In addition, Bayview also instituted the Healthy Eating Activity and Recreation in Today's Scout (HEARTS) Program to address Boy and Girl Scouts outside of the school system.

The study's other authors are Teresa A. Moore, Linda D. McFarland and Jennifer A. Bass.

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