By James Beckerman, MD, FACC
I just got back from a whirlwind 24-hour trip to Phoenix, Arizona, where I joined an incredible volunteer committee in supporting the American Heart Association in its efforts to raise money for research, education, and advocacy to help fight and prevent heart disease.
We heard from a variety of speakers at the AHA’s mid-year planning meeting, and I was impressed to learn that Phoenix has been raising money for the AHA for 53 years with their annual Heart Ball — they pioneered what is now a nationwide tradition in dozens of cities. Throw in a fashion show, a raffled shopping spree at Neiman-Marcus (no, I didn’t win), and my first time cutting vegetables on television, and it made for a busy, fun day.
And a hot one — it was 107 degrees — and for this Oregonian, that meant air conditioning in a big way. So I was thrilled that we capped off our day with a visit to the Halle Heart Children’s Museum. This one-of-a-kind interactive exhibit is housed adjacent to the offices of the American Heart Association and provides visitors with a fun, educational, and even inspiring tour of the cardiovascular system with lots of creative ways for young people (and older!) to learn more about how to be heart healthy.
From the miniature golf course that takes you through a blocked artery to a grocery store fully stocked with rubber (but heart healthy!) foods to a film where kids teach kids how to save a life, this manageable but comprehensive museum would easily fill an afternoon.
But the best part? The American Heart Association lets public school groups in for free. Second graders and fifth graders visit the Halle Heart Children’s Museum every day as part of an ongoing science enrichment curriculum in cooperation with local public schools, and the AHA foots the bill. At a time when we are hearing consistently bad news about school budgets, this is a refreshing positive footnote from the community.
As we put our heads together to develop a comprehensive strategy around curbing the tide of childhood obesity, we are also learning that around half of these young people are already exhibiting risk factors for future heart disease, like elevated blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, and elevated blood sugar. It should be no surprise, but it’s still sobering. A study by the Centers for Disease Control in the medical journal Pediatrics also recently noted that upwards of 37% of normal-weight kids carry a risk factor as well. This suggests that not only should we be targeting obesity, which is a visible suggestion of possibly increased cardiac risk, but we need to be proactive about educating kids (and their parents) and steering them toward their pediatricians for regular visits to consider these risk factors before they blossom. In a world fueled by digital content, where health strategists are understandably geared toward meeting kids where they tend to live — on cell phones and computer screens — there is something refreshing about an educational tool which you can touch, hear, and see…in real life.
And the air conditioning works great too.