New Program Attacks Heart Disease Early In Life

Kids in Bogalusa, La., are getting a jump on heart disease prevention and learning the importance of exercise early on.

The school program called "Heart Smart" is an offshoot of the Bogalusa Heart Study. Tulane University Cardiologist Gerald Berenson began the study back in 1972, to track the development of heart disease from childhood to adulthood.

About 14,000 children have been screened so far, including 22-year-old twins Amy and Amber Night. They've been in the study since kindergarten.

High blood pressure runs in the twins' family. So far, theirs is okay. But researchers check the girls every four years to spot changes.

"It's valuable to have those multiple measurements because it gives us a sharper relationship to the genetic studies, to how the risk factors change over time," Dr. Berenson said.

The study drives home the point that a healthy lifestyle needs to start early in life. Thanks to school programs like "Heart Smart," the kids in Bogalusa are getting the message.

So far in the study, researchers have found early signs of heart disease documented in children as young as 5 to 8. The study ends in 2005 unless funding for the project is continued.