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Tweens could be headed for trouble - February 2002

Home may not be where the healthy heart is for Canadas tweens, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

The current lifestyles of tweens kids aged 9 to 12 could put them in the fast lane for developing heart disease and stroke as early as their 30s, according to the Foundations Annual Report Card on Canadians Health.

The Report Card also reveals that many parents and children have differing perceptions when it comes to lifestyle behaviour.

Five hundred tweens were interviewed by phone, following an interview with one of the parents of each child.

The interviews reveal that the majority of kids in this age group are not eating nearly enough fruit and vegetables. Close to half of the tweens are not getting enough regular physical activity.

Most disturbing is that second-hand smoke is still a significant health hazard for this age group. One-third of the tweens interviewed said that they were exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke, with the main source being their own homes.

Are Tweens Making the Heart-Health Grade?







Physical Activity

Children (and adults) should be active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week

95% know that walking or riding a bicycle is good for the heart;

55% know that running until you get hot and sweaty is good for the heart



*56% have played hard, to the point of getting hot or sweaty



5 to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables

98% know that fruit and vegetables are good for the heart


*14% have had 4 or more servings of fruit, vegetables, or pure fruit or vegetable juice


Second-Hand Smoke

No exposure is safe

82% believe that second- hand smoke harms young children


67% have not been exposed to second-hand smoke within past 3 days


*(Children were asked to report on their behaviour during the day of the interview to maximize accuracy of recall)

A similar Heart and Stroke Foundation study of children ages 6-12 in 1998 found only 20% of children consumed the recommended daily amounts of fruit and vegetables and that 63% were physically active. This new report card continues to reinforce the need to pull up our socks when it comes to heart health in the home.

This new report card shows that healthy homes need to become a greater focus for families, particularly in regards to 9-12 year-olds, says Dr. Anthony Graham, spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

The Foundations Report Card found that Canadian families are running into difficulties translating their heart health knowledge into actual behaviour.

Like their parents, most tweens have a good understanding of what constitutes healthy living but, like adults, it is not being put into practice. Behavioural change is one of the toughest barriers we face in achieving good heart health, so its important to establish good habits early, says Dr. Graham.

According to the Foundation, these good habits must be reinforced outside of the home as well. The need to provide quality health and physical education programs in schools, access to activity programs in the community, and healthy food options at schools and in other environments frequented by children, such as cinemas and arenas, must all be considered to get tweens back on track.

These are issues that can no longer remain on the back burner. The rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes that we are seeing in young adults could give rise to a new generation who experience heart disease as early as their 30s rather than middle and later life, explains Dr. Graham.

Tweens, parents and the smoking habit

Exposure to second-hand smoke poses a significant heart health danger. The report shows that 88% of parents understand that second-hand smoke can harm the health of young children a great deal.

Yet, one-third of the children interviewed reported that they had been exposed to second-hand smoke in the last three days, 53% reporting that the exposure occurred in their own home.

Like children of non-smokers, 98% of tweens whose parents smoke dislike second-hand smoke and wish that people would stop smoking around them. Unfortunately, this doesnt necessarily deter tweens from following in the footsteps of their parents.

Adults still have a strong influence on children in this age group, Dr. Graham says. Research shows that kids whose parents smoke are at least twice as likely to take up the habit as kids whose parents dont smoke.

The Report Card shows that children of a parent who smokes daily are more likely to report having friends who smoke than children of non-smokers. The proportion of children who report having friends who smoke or who have tried smoking increases dramatically with age, ranging from six per cent among nine year olds to 27% among 12 year olds.

Approximately one-quarter of all 15-19 year olds smoke, so its critical to undertake measures to deter tweens from taking up the habit. These measures include education and awareness, minimizing youth access, and an increase in the price of cigarettes.

Is the generation gap narrowing?

The Foundations Report Card revealed that when it comes to heart health behaviour, while parents were aware of their tweens habits in many cases, there were still some significant gaps. The greatest divide existed around parents belief about their childs consumption of fruit and vegetables. In one out of every two families, the parents report differed from that of the childs. This is clearly one area where parents and tweens should be focusing their efforts.

Double the income, half the time

According to the Foundation, the time crunch confronting Canadian families appears to be a key barrier to heart healthy living. For todays busy families, often dependent on both parents working, double the income can mean half the time.

Previous Foundation Report Cards on Canadians Health found over half (53%) of the nation reported that their quality of life was being dramatically impacted by not having enough time for family, friends or partners.

Todays stress -filled lives make it a real challenge to lead a healthy lifestyle and spend time with our children. Parents know what to do, but children learn what they live. When parents eat well, are physically active and dont smoke, it teaches children to develop good health behaviours. I encourage parents to do this now while they still have such a strong influence on their children, says Dr. Graham Reid, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson and psychologist.

Getting back on track

According to the Foundation, heart health within the Canadian family can be achieved relatively easily.

It doesnt have to happen overnight. Small things can mean a lot in getting your family back on track and can really pay a substantial heart-health dividend, says Dr. Graham. Keep fruit and vegetables handy as snacks. Schedule some active time every day - go to the park, take a walk or play an active game. Declare your home smoke free. Dont smoke at home and dont let others smoke in your home. Making a few changes to your family routine will go a long way to improving the physical and emotional health of your children and your family.

To assist Canadian parents in improving the lifestyle and eating habits of their children, the Foundation has implemented a number of programs. The HeartSmart Family Fun Pack incorporates games, tips and information for families on how to adopt a heart healthy lifestyle, including physical activity, proper nutrition and a tobacco-free environment. The Foundation specifically designed its Health Check food labeling program to make healthy food choices at the grocery store easier for time-stressed families. For more information on these or any other Heart and Stroke Foundation programs, call 1-888-HSF-INFO.

Is your family heart smart?

For more information:
Elissa Freeman/Sharon Edwards, 416-489-7111 x316/455
Heather Rourke, 613-569-4361 ext. 318