Welcome to the Chronic Disease Patrol Blog

by Cate Moriasi and Kathleen Coughlan

We appreciate you choosing to check out our blog. This is a shared blog run by two friends who happen to be coauthors and former colleagues, Dr. Cate Munene Moriasi and Dr. Kathleen Coughlan. We (Cate and Kate) met in the Department of Molecular Medicine at the OU Health Sciences Center, where we conducted research in some of the most common chronic diseases. The main thing we learned during our long research hours is that, when it comes to chronic diseases, prevention is your best bet, if at all possible. As a current college professor in STEM, Kate strives to teach others about the human body and disease prevention. Cate, a mom of two children, has educational degrees in food science and postdoctoral training in dietary prevention of disease. Cate seeks to help others understand what happens to our bodies when we eat certain foods. Our desire and passion is to communicate to a younger generation, knowledge that can inspire them to be excited about healthy living.  It is our hope that parents and children can discuss healthy living in a fun way that leads to a better lifestyle for kids and parents.

Upcoming Atherosclerosis Book

To that end, we have written a book that uses a story to teach children about atherosclerosis, the underlying cause for most heart-related deaths. Atherosclerosis happens when plaque builds up in one’s arteries and depending on which artery is affected, different diseases can result. For example, if an artery in the brain is affected it can lead to a stroke. If the coronary arteries are affected, coronary artery disease (CAD) results, in which case the blood supply to the heart is affected.

This book is for middle schoolers. Children at this age are still impressionable and are learning to make informed decisions. But you might wonder why it is important to bother them with the subject of a chronic disease that will probably never bother them until they are much older. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) heart disease causes about 1 out of 4 deaths every year in the United States alone, and the most common type of heart disease in the United States, coronary artery disease (CAD), is caused by atherosclerosis. But more than just the statistics, most of us probably know people with heart-related complications and all of us should be aware of the symptoms as that can save lives. So much about the causes of atherosclerosis is still unknown, but we know that it develops over many years and may start in childhood.

The Good News

All this doesn’t sound encouraging, but there is good news! For the most part, atherosclerosis is preventable since it’s affected by healthy lifestyle choices such as heart-healthy eating and physical activity.

However, you might still wonder, “atherosclerosis is a big word, even for adults. Now what about kids?” We too thought about it but realized that kids can learn big words. If you stop for a second, you might remember a time when you had to ask your preteen or even younger child to repeat a word. A big word probably coined in the entertainment industry that perhaps an 8-year old said with ease because he or she was interested in it. Something like “Decepticon Terrorsaur” and the easier to say “Optimus Primal,” from the beloved Transformers franchise or the “legendary Regigigas” from the beloved Pokémon franchise.  Children learn to comfortably say these words because they are interested in them. Therefore, we believe that if we give them reason to, they can learn and know words like atherosclerosis. You never know how learning such a big word can get them interested in making simple daily choices that can keep atherosclerosis at bay and reduce the burden of the associated chronic diseases later in life.

So, what is the Purpose of the Chronic Disease Patrol Blog?

The aim of our blog is to work alongside parents and educators interested in helping kids take a stand against preventable chronic diseases. Through this blog and our children’s book, we seek to help you form partnerships with children. Partnerships based on knowledge and meant to empower children to be actively involved in safeguarding their own health. Currently, our focus is on heart disease but there are many parallels between lifestyle choices that affect heart disease and those that affect other chronic diseases.  Since children like to be in charge from a very young age, we want to use this attribute to help them choose what is right for their bodies. In our book, we have used a story to convey the dangers of atherosclerosis and how to develop good habits early on to avoid or delay the pitfalls of a heart attack later in life. The book has been contracted for publication by All Things That Matter Press and we will let you know as soon as we have a publication date.

In the meantime, we want to start sharing ideas about how to form these knowledge-based partnerships where children are allowed to take charge and become heroes of their own health, while you play a supportive role. Could this improve the outcome of the many negotiations going on between parents and their children about why the child needs to eat a particular vegetable? Maybe not for every child, but for some the conversation will shift the question from, “Why do I have to eat that?” to “How can we make it taste better?” In a later post, we will share ideas about how children can play a significant role in making food they wouldn’t otherwise care for, become acceptable to them. On the flip side, we know the battle relating to denying a child the food they have come to love. One of the favorite phrases is, “I want more because it tastes so good!” And the parents’ response might be something like, “no you can’t have any more because it is not good for you.” Just imagine if the children knew exactly what sugar does to their bodies! They might not ask why for too long but instead they might be willing to work out a plan to help them balance their cravings with what they know they need to do for their well being.

Healthy Habits Early in Life

Children are impressionable until a certain age, even though in many cases it will take another person saying the exact thing mom has been saying for a long time for the light bulb to go on. As they transition to adulthood, certain habits (healthy or unhealthy) are slowly set in stone. Granted at some point, many adults start actively working to change the not-so healthy habits. Why? Maybe because of the slowing metabolism, they begin to feel the cumulative effects of their long-term unhealthy habits or maybe they begin to think a little more about their mortality. It’s amazing what happens when one doesn’t feel invincible anymore; all of a sudden, a green-looking glass full of blended spinach, kale and green apple doesn’t look too bad. So, while many of us make these changes as adults, we continue to cater to our kids’ desire to consume things that we know may not be good for them but they like them. After all, many of us find ourselves thinking, “my child is more active than I am, they will be okay with a couple of cookies a day.” True as that may be, what about we give our children good reasons to take charge early enough and choose a healthier pattern that might stick with them for the rest of their lives.

Partnership: Where Do You Come In?

Every parent or educator has experiences that have made this issue a success or an ongoing battle in their home or at school. It’s our desire that you all stay connected with us (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest) so we can learn from each other and share ideas on how to help our children embrace healthier living and in doing so make us healthier too. Granted, there are many factors that affect our health, some of which we can control and some we cannot. A quote in Beth Lambert’s “A Compromised Generation: The Epidemic of Chronic Illness in America’s Children,” summarizes it best: “Genetics loads the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.” Problematic environmental factors don’t just include exposure to toxins but they also include diet and nutrition and habits and lifestyles – including what kinds of leisure activities we engage in, individually or corporately. Therefore, in this blog we seek to inspire all of us to do something about the factors that we can control and help our children take a stand against preventable chronic diseases now. Currently, we are planning on one new post per month. We hope you chose to visit our blog again to see updates.

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