Prague -- A project in the Republic of San Marino to encourage high school students as "ambassadors of health" has been taken up by 25 of the country's teenagers in a bid to educate young people about a healthy lifestyle in the prevention of heart disease. The students, who are aged between 14 and 18, are competing for prizes awarded on the theoretical basis of their project as well as its implementation among their friends, families and themselves.
"The contestants all accepted this challenge with enthusiasm," says Dr Emidio Troiani, a cardiologist at the Cailungo State Hospital in San Marino. "When we reviewed the results it became clear that our young people had become - by right and through their own efforts - ambassadors of health in our small nation."
An outline of the project - known in San Marino as "Bravi e Sani - is reported today in Prague at EuroPRevent 2010, the year's principal event for all those engaged in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.(1)
The contestants were asked to develop their projects within the context of four themes: cardiovascular risk factors (such as diabetes, hypertension and smoking), nutrition, exercise and "the acquisition of a critical spirit with regard to society and the mass media". During the course of the project the students are assessed by a team of tutors comprising an internist, a sports medicine physician, a cardiologist, a psychiatrist, and a nutritionist. Results are verified in terms of well-being, body weight, physical activity and a final written report.
The project, says Dr Troiani, is testimony to the growing evidence that the prevention of cardiovascular disease in later life begins in childhood - and that, even if your instructor is still at school, it's never too late to learn new habits for the prevention of heart disease.
This, indeed, is the central theme of this year's EuroPRevent congress, "the lifelong challenge". As background to the theme, the chairman of the congress programme committee, Professor Joep Perk from the Linnaeus University in Sweden, says that there is now "very strong evidence" that heart disease is a chronic condition which - even without symptoms - begins in childhood. And it's in childhood that prevention should begin. Professor Perk has a four-point approach designed to support the prevention of heart disease in children:
- Absolutely no smoking, whether active or passive. The evidence in favour of smoking bans - and the harm of second-hand smoke - is also becoming overwhelmingly strong.
- At least one hour of physical activity every day, either sports or just energetic playing.
- A varied diet which includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- A good night's sleep.
The winning project in San Marino - titled “Don’t worry, be happy. Relaxed opinions about stress” - was developed by 18-year-old secondary school student Beatrice Simoncini. She analysed the effect of stress on everyday life through interviews with schoolmates and friends whose ages ranged from 18 to 53 years. She examined perceptions of stress, and, adding information from “Social Readjustment Rating Scale”, surprisingly found that the young are more stressed than older people. Beatrice concluded that taking good care of yourself is mandatory for a better life, noting that physical activity, yoga, meditation and readings are good starting points.
"We are very proud that our students became health ambassadors, says Dr Troiani, and we plan to repeat a similar experience next year. Our goal was educational. We found that all participants in this contest added to their knowledge about a healthy lifestyle and most of them changed their behaviours as a result with better nutrition, not smoking, more physical activity and stress reduction."