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 interventional efforts.
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.