TARRYTOWN, NY--A nationwide study to test whether a multidimensional
approach can change schoolchildren's nutritional habits and behavior
for the better is nearing its final stage, Elaine Stone, PhD,
of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said at a symposium
marking the 25th anniversary of the American Health Foundation.
The study, called CATCH, for Child and Adolescent Trial of Cardiovascular
Health, is trying new methods to spur children to eat better and
avoid smoking and other unhealthy habits, said Dr. Stone, program
administrator for the study.
Until the 1970s, school health instruction was heavy-handed and
had little or no impact on health behavior of children, Dr. Stone
said. That situation began to change in the 1980s, when psychological
information on complex behaviors such as smoking began to be applied
to in-school programs.
The 1990s have brought the realization that health-affecting behaviors
such as eating, smoking, and exercise have to be looked at together,
and that family factors also influence those habits, she said.
CATCH, which attempts to integrate behavior modification efforts
both in school and out, thus represents a third generation of
The program starts with nutrition in the third grade, with exercise
added in the fourth grade, and smoking in the fifth grade. CATCH
uses the methodology of clinical trials, with a control group
and an intervention group, she said.
The NHLBI-funded study is trying to change children's behavior
by focusing not only on them as individuals but also on the influences
of family and schools. The approach is "integrated behavior
modification at multiple levels," Dr. Stone said, with data
being gathered on both behavioral and physiological outcomes.
CATCH started with a field trial in four schools, in Minneapolis,
New Orleans, Houston and San Diego, and since has been expanded
to 96 schools nationwide. Children in those schools are randomized
into two groups: One receives instruction in the school while
the other has family intervention added. Children in other district
schools who are not in the program also serve as controls.