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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans and kills about 650,000 people a year. Many of the outcomes for heart disease are attributed to lifestyle (unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, etc.)

Now, new research is outlining a potential way to reduce cases and death attributed to heart disease through early intervention targeted to young children.

A new study from the American College of Cardiology says implementing school-based programs aimed at teaching healthy cardiovascular habits for kids as young as preschool can lead to long lasting lifestyle changes.

Translation: Teaching kids heart healthy habits early increases the likelihood of them becoming heart healthy adults.

CBS4 spoke with Doctor Laura Shopp, a pediatric cardiologist with IU Health, who acknowledged the importance of early intervention. Shopp pointed to data that shows most children who have risk factors for heart disease in early childhood years continue to have those lifestyle habits in their teenage years and then go on to develop heart disease as adults.  

 “The good news is we think we can influence kids at this age, we think there are some particular ages where we can really try to change lifestyle habits and we have a good data to show that the earlier we do that the better and more successful that we are,” Shopp said.

The idea of teaching cardiovascular health to preschoolers may seem “a bit much,” but experts say it doesn’t have to be.

The American College of Cardiology found the concepts can be easily tailored to preschoolers using methods they’re familiar with such as coloring books, storybooks, games, and dances to highlight the importance of heart health and increase physical activity.

“Those things can teach kids. They are sponges, they learn things. They might not learn it from a textbook or from a nutritionist even or people more accustomed to working with adults, but they will get it if you meet them where they are they will learn,” Shopp said

Current guidelines call for 60 minutes of “moderate physical activity” daily for kids. Shopp says creating heart healthy habits in children early on can pay dividends in the future.

“Habits are easy to form, hard to break. And I think they’re easier to form in this time frame and we’ve got good evidence to suggest that. And if they’re good habits and then you can just keep those up throughout your teenage years in adulthood. Bad habits, I’m not saying you can’t break them, but as soon as you can transition them to good habits the better,” she said.