NIH Press Release
National Institute of Nursing Research

Wednesday, March 25, 1998

Marianne Duffy
Chris Rhatigan

Children's Cholesterol Levels
Improve with Classroom Instruction Plus Physical Activity

School children who are taught about health and nutrition and also participate in physical activity programs show lower cholesterol levels, according to results of a study conducted by Dr. Joanne S. Harrell and colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing.

This study, supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research, (NINR), National Institutes of Health, (NIH) is part of the Cardiovascular Health in Children project.

Dr. Harrell presented the study results at the American Heart Association, Cardiovascular Disease and Epidemiology Conference. She reported that, while students who took part in just one component of the study showed some improvement, those who participated in both the classroom instruction and physical activity showed significant improvement.

The research team evaluated 600 students, aged 11 to 14, from several rural areas in North Carolina. They divided the children into four groups: One group of students participated twice a week in a "knowledge/attitude" program, which involved classroom instruction on issues of nutrition, smoking, fitness, and cardiovascular health. Another group participated in a physical activity program for 20-30 minutes three times a week. A third group of students participated in both programs and a fourth group did not participate in either intervention.

In the knowledge/attitude program, children learned healthy eating habits, how to read food nutrition labels, the dangers of smoking, and strategies to "say no" to smoking. Another component of the program focused on general cardiovascular health and the importance of fitness, including various kinds of activities and how much activity is needed for fitness.

The regular physical education teachers of the school conducted classes using instructional plans supplied by the research team. The 20-30 minute classes were taught three times a week and consisted of a program of cardiovascular activity, including warm up and cool down periods. Activities did not require sports skills so that all students could participate at similar levels.

The researchers measured the lipid profile of each student before starting and after completing the program. The lipid profile includes measures of total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglyceride levels. The total cholesterol and LDL levels in students participating in the knowledge/attitude program only were reduced. Students in the physical activity group also had significant reductions in LDL levels. The greatest reductions in total cholesterol were achieved by the students who participated in both programs.

The results of this study demonstrated that the combination of both a knowledge/attitude program and a physical activity program was highly effective in improving lipid profiles in this group of young adolescents.

The research team included: Joanne S. Harrell, PhD, RN, FAAN; Robert G. McMurray, PhD, FACSM; Shrikant Bangdiwala, PhD; Amy Levine, MD; Shibing Deng, MS; and Chyrise B. Bradley, MA.

To contact Dr. Harrell, call Renee Kinzie of the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill School of Nursing Public Relations Department at (919) 966-9412.