Why Captain Heart Was Born
The first heart health promotion book aimed at children 3-7 years old has just been published by a Chicago physician and his six-year-old son.
“Increasing studies show once children are seven, they’ve largely already determined whether they’ll get heart disease. The risk factors, even the early heart damage, are already in place. says Eugene Lipov M.D., a Chicago physician who co-authored the children’s book with his six-year-old son. “This is an attempt to reach those children.” Dr. Lipov is Director of Pain Research at Northwest Community Hospital.
Studies have shown that about 24 percent of U.S. children aged 2 to 5 are overweight, defined as having a body-mass index (BMI) in the 85th percentile or above for their height and age. That number rises to 33 percent among children aged 6 to 11, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, the Bogalusa Heart Study has shown fatty streaks, the first signs of heart vessel obstructions, begin in children as young as six years old.
Other studies show childhood obesity is skyrocketing and the vast majority of such children will stay overweight the rest of their lives.
“By the time most children learn what heart disease is, it’s already too late!” says Dr. Lipov. “You can talk all you like about diet, salt, exercise, and smoking; it really doesn’t make much difference.”
Dr. Lipov conceived the book idea when he was asked to speak about the heart to his son’s
pre-kindergarten class. He says, “I went on Amazon and looked for a book to help them understand the heart and heart disease. There was nothing there!”
But how do you teach preschoolers about heart disease on a level they can understand? Dr. Lipov enlisted the help of his then four-year-old son, Sam. The two decided to tell the story of a Superhero, Captain Heart (who looked like a heart with legs) who helps a young boy and his grandfather become strong again by eating right and exercising.
“Sam had the final say on everything,” says Dr. Lipov, “because his was the only=2 0opinion that counted. For instance, at first Captain Heart looked like a two-dimensional valentine but Sam said hearts have muscles so we made him a ‘smiley Rambo,’ a muscular three-dimensional Superhero.”
In fact, Captain Heart already has his own 4” action figure. Dr. Lipov had the superhero molded and manufactured. Plans are for the action figure to either be bundled with the book or sold separately. Dr. Lipov says kids love hearing the book read aloud while they’re holding the action figure.
The physician has also enlisted the support of Chicago’s cardiology community. Several experts have endorsed the book and even recommended it for use by the National Institute of Health. The NIH has just begun a major initiative to halt the skyrocketing rate of childhood obesity.
“That’s what I’d like to see,” says Dr. Lipov, “the routine use of this book by pediatricians and parents. Heart disease is deadly serious. But to teach young kids to prevent it, you have to make the process fun. For the first time I think this book does just that.”
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