WASHINGTON, DC— HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt today announced in early June the launch of We Can!, Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition, a national education program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help prevent overweight and obesity among youth ages 8-13. We Can! provides resources and community-based programs for parents, caregivers and youth that focus on behaviors to encourage healthy eating, increase physical activity, and reduce sedentary time.

“Overweight in children is clearly a public health crisis. Sixteen percent of children in the United States are carrying around excess weight – that’s 9 million children who are at increased risk for chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma,” Secretary Leavitt said today at the Environmental Solutions to Obesity in America’s Youth conference organized by the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

“We need to act now to prevent obesity in our children,” said NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D. “Obesity is a high priority of the NIH. This year, we will spend about $440 million on a wide range of research on this important problem.”

The science-based We Can! program helps parents teach their children to: Eat a sufficient amount of a variety of fruits and vegetables per day Choose small portions at home and at restaurants Eat fewer high-fat foods and energy-dense foods that are low in nutrient value such as French fries, bacon, and doughnuts Substitute water or fat-free or low-fat milk for sweetened beverages such as sodas Engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week Reduce recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day

There is new evidence that teaching children and their parents to make lifestyle changes like the ones proposed in the program can have an impact. A study published online in the journal Pediatrics showed that children ages 8 to 10 who were enrolled in a behaviorally oriented nutrition education program with their parents and were taught to follow a diet low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol reported switching from calorie-dense and high-fat foods to foods that were lower in saturated fat, total fat and dietary cholesterol. The children in the intervention adopted significantly better dietary habits over several years compared to their peers who received only general nutritional information. The results are from an ancillary study of the NHLBI-supported Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC).

“DISC demonstrates that children and their families can learn to enjoy healthy foods and to be selective about their food choices – habits that will hopefully stay with them throughout their lives,” said NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D. “The study also showed that children and their families need the right tools to help them make positive lifestyle changes.”

The new We Can! tools include a parents’ handbook available in Spanish or English as well as a six-lesson curriculum offered through community-based sites. Tested curricula for children are also available for community organizations. In addition, a new online resource provides parents, caregivers, communities, national partners and media up-to-date health information and tips on maintaining a healthy weight for families.

More information go to http://wecan.nhlbi.nih.gov.