Twelve years ago, a group of healthcare professionals initiated a heart disease risk factor screening program for children at Sherman Elementary in Boone County, W.Va. On Monday, May 10, at the school where it all began, the CARDIAC Project celebrated the screening of 100,000 children statewide with an assembly of fifth graders and various state education and government dignitaries in attendance.

The Coronary Artery Risk Detection in Appalachian Communities (CARDIAC) Project originated in 1998, according to co-founder and director, Bill Neal, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at West Virginia University. Neal and colleagues from around the state soon established the program in elementary schools statewide to fight the high rate of heart disease and diabetes in the children of West Virginia. It has also become a key component in fighting childhood obesity.

“Forty-seven percent of fifth graders in this state are overweight. Six percent are morbidly obese, and nearly half of these children may become diabetic,” Dr. Neal said. “For the first time in history, our children will have shorter life expectancies than their parents unless we reverse the prevalence of obesity in WV. The CARDIAC Project is making great strides, working to change those statistics.”

The program has collected twelve years of key health risk indicators, such as Body Mass Index (BMI), weight and blood cholesterol levels through free school-based screenings of children. Intervention and education are offered to students with risk factors and their families to help them lead healthier lives.

The data also provides legislators, researchers and health care professionals with the information needed to implement funding and other programs to combat childhood obesity and related issues.

The CARDIAC Project collaborates with other organizations to offer nutrition and physical activity programming. These include “veggie tastings,” a healthy lifestyle program called Camp NEW You and a web-based educational resource called Take Charge! Be Healthy!

The CARDIAC Project has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a national leader in assessing the health risk factors of children. Its primary source of funding is the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health.

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CONTACT: Amy Johns, HSC News Service

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