The children in Sue Vant Hof’s physical education class can repeat an important phrase by memory: "Every 26 minutes in Arizona, someone dies from a heart attack or stroke."
During 30-minute classes three times a week at Chandler’s Sanborn Elementary School, Vant Hof calls on her students to stop an aerobic exercise — and touch the carotid artery in their necks to feel the pulse.
They talk about family members who had heart disease. And last year, the school’s annual Jump Rope for Heart fund-raiser raised $18,800 for the American Heart Association.
Vant Hof is doing exactly what the American Heart Association wants more schools to do: Teach children about heart disease.
The association earlier this week urged schools nationwide to be more aggressive about teaching children what heart disease is, and the risks of bad diet and little exercise.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne agreed. He said his administration has already begun to focus on this, by seeking to improve the nutrition in school lunches.
Estimates are that more than 15 percent of American children are very overweight.
Many East Valley schools are studying ways to improve nutrition in student lunches, to increase childhood activity and to teach exercise to combat health problems, school officials said.
Gerry Kroloff, a former teacher and now executive director of the Arizona Heart Foundation, refuted the association’s complaint. She said the foundation for 10 years has been teaching about heart disease and prevention — from good health to avoiding cigarettes, throughout East Valley schools.
"Today the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says children are being found with fat in their aorta as early as four years of age," she said. "We want to make sure they make choices that will eliminate their risks. Statistics are, without this kind of background, 40 percent of today’s children will be heart disease victims as adults."
The heart healthy lessons for children curriculum is available at www.cureheartdis ease.org.