Heart education for primary school kids

SINGAPORE - At only 12, Vivian Loh got a sneak peek into her future - one where she picks up smoking as a habit.

It was a "beauty shot" she would not want to have. "I look so bad," she declared.

The pupil of Northland Primary was using a virtual online programme to age her own head shot, adding lines and unsightly growth to show the effects of smoking.

She and 149 others in her Primary 6 cohort took part in a two-day fun Healthy Heart programme at their school on Monday.

The pilot was run by Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) to "get them while they are young and impressionable", said head of KTPH Cardiology Ong Hean Yee.

And for good reason, too. Out of over 300 heart attack patients who sought treatment at KTPH between June 2011 and June this year, one in five was under the age of 45.

Not fat

Dr Ong said none was particularly fat or suffering from high levels of cholesterol in the blood. "Of the STEMI cases, three in five were smokers," Dr Ong said.

STEMI is a serious type of heart attack where one of the major arteries that supplies oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the heart muscle is blocked.

Currently, 14 per cent of those between 18 and 69 years old here smoke.

"The saddest part here is knowing that many of these fathers and husbands would be alive and well if they had not smoked and had looked after their health," said Dr Ong.

Another worrying factor is the growing amount of food that Singaporeans are eating. For example, a hamburger in the 1970s weighed 111g.

"Today, it is 349g - about three times the weight and Singaporeans simply devour them," he said. It was Dr Ong who mooted the idea of the healthy heart programme, making it fun and piloting it at a neighbourhood school in Yishun.

One first-aider, every home

One first-aider, every home

For a start, the hospital, drawing on its dietitians and the St John's Ambulance, has targeted the programme at 12-year-olds in neighbouring schools.

Centre manager for Jurong St John's Ambulance, Mr Thomas Hwa, said: "This is an extension of our programme 'One first-aider, every home'. We are going to schools and hopefully they will learn about saving lives."

Added Dr Ong: "Our patients (at KTPH), who are under 45 years old, often have children who are in primary schools. I believe if they can encourage their parents to lead healthy lives or recognise the symptoms of a heart attack and ask for help early, they can prevent early disability or death.

"We started with the 12-year-olds, so hopefully in two years, they would not pick up a cigarette. At 12, they have not entertained thoughts of picking up smoking as yet, so we need to hammer home the message early that it is bad."

Pupils from Northland Primary were divided into groups and rotated through seven different stations. They learnt to make quick yet healthy and tasty breakfast, had a dance-off on the Xbox Kinect and had weights strapped onto their ankles while they did jumping jacks.

They were also taken through the steps of cardiac pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) by the St John's Ambulance, and dressed burns and fractures.

And they were virtually aged to hit home the unwanted effects of smoking.

Matthew Yap, 12, who had his looks virtually "enhanced", took a step back.

"Wow! Now since I know what I will become, I don't think I will pick up the habit," he said.

Of the 150 pupils from Northland Primary who took part in the programme, about half said that at least one family member smoked and that they wanted him or her to give up.

juditht@sph.com.sg


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