Family Education Leads to Healthier Diet for Disease Prone Children

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Children Eating Habits

Home-based counseling can lead to healthier eating habits among children with a family history of cardiovascular disease, according to a study conducted in Finland.

Genetic predisposition and unhealthy behaviors are significant risk factors for heart attacks, strokes and related illnesses.

After five counseling sessions spaced over nearly three years, participating children reported eating less fat and salt than other youngsters. The study program was less successful in influencing exercise and smoking habits, say authors led by Marika Salminen of Finland's University of Turku.

The authors, writing in the latest issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior, believe their focus on high-risk families is unique among studies of family-oriented health education.

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The researchers focused on the Kainuu region of eastern Finland, which has the country's highest rate of early-onset heart disease. By combing through hospital records dating from 1987 to 1995, they identified adults who had been treated for heart disease, stroke, or high cholesterol, and invited their families to participate in the study.

Families with a total of 432 school-aged children accepted. For comparison, baseline measurements were also collected among 600 children who did not receive subsequent at-home counseling.

Interventions included two counseling sessions at school, plus three home visits by public health nurses of the Kainuu Heart Association.

Family-based counseling is widely recognized as the "gold standard" for weight-control programs among youth, says Sylvia Moore, director of a medical education program at the University of Wyoming. However, most successful programs offer six months to a year of intense counseling, perhaps as often as every two weeks.

The Finnish study is noteworthy, Moore says, because "even when you have very limited resources and you can only do five interventions with these families, you are

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