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News Release

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Contact: NHLBI Communications Office
(301) 496-4236

HHS Secretary Leavitt, NIH Director Tell Parents: Together, ‘We Can!’ Prevent Childhood Obesity

Federal Government, National Organizations, Local Communities
Join Together to Help Parents Improve Children’s Health Outlook

Washington, DC — HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt today announced 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 We Can! can have an impact. A study published online today in the journal Pediatrics shows 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.

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS., also spoke at the Environmental Solutions to Obesity Conference about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity throughout life, beginning in childhood. Dr. Carmona noted that the 2005 agenda for the Office of the Surgeon General is “The Year of the Healthy Child.” Dr. Carmona said, “As parents, we must lead by example. As a father, I work hard to teach my children about the importance of physical activity and healthy eating by not only talking with them but also setting the example for them. In fact, my kids and I often work out together. The behaviors that children learn from us now will last a lifetime. We must encourage our children to enjoy healthy foods and to be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day -- not only through sports, but also by doing simple things like taking the stairs, riding their bikes, and just getting out and playing.”

Founding partners for We Can!include Action for Healthy Kids, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Association for State and Territorial Public Health Nutrition Directors, Black Entertainment Television (BET) Foundation, the International Food Information Council Foundation, North American Association for the Study of Obesity, Parents’Action for Children, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and Univision. Supporting organizations include the American College of Sports Medicine, the Produce for Better Health Foundation, and the University of Michigan Health System.

More than 35 communities across the nation have already committed to implement We Can! programs with parents and children. Thirteen intensive community sites have been selected to receive training and to participate in thorough evaluations of the We Can! program:
• State of Alabama, Coalition led by the Department of Public Health
• Tamarac, Fla., City Parks and Recreation Department
• Roswell/Athens, Ga., Roswell Recreation and Parks Department and Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services
• Gary, Ind., Youth Services Bureau/Parks Recreation
• South Bend, Ind., City Parks and Recreation Department
• Montgomery County, Md., County Recreation Department
• Boston, Mass., Boston Public Health Commission
• Pittsfield, Mass., Operation Better Start, Berkshire Health Systems
• Springfield, Mo., Springfield-Greene County Park Board
• Las Vegas/Henderson, Nev., University of Nevada, Las Vegas Department of Nutrition Sciences and Cities of Las Vegas and Henderson
• Benton County, Ore., Benton County Health Department
• Lane County, Ore., Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth
• Temple, Texas, The Children's Hospital at Scott & White

More than 22 other community sites have committed to use and distribute We Can! program materials. NIH has designed We Can! so that local civic groups, parent groups, churches and others can adapt and use the program materials from the We Can! Web site.

We Can! was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and is being promoted in collaboration with three other NIH Institutes -- the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Cancer Institute -- as well as several national private sector organizations.

More information on We Can! is available at To request a free We Can! parent handbook in English or Spanish, call toll-free 866-35-WE CAN (866-359-3226).
To arrange an interview with Dr. Nabel, contact the NHLBI Communications Office at (301) 496-4236 or email To interview Dr. Zerhouni, contact the NIH Office of Communications and Public Liaison at (301) 496-5787. To interview Dr. Carmona, contact the HHS Press Office at (202) 690-6343.


NHLBI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Federal Government’s primary agency for biomedical and behavioral research. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NHLBI press releases and other materials including information about heart disease, obesity, and related health issues are online at

NOTE TO MEDIA: See companion release in separate distribution: “New NHLBI-Sponsored Study Shows Programs Can Teach Children to Eat Healthier.
For broadcast media: A bites/b-roll package including sound bites from Surgeon General Carmona (English and Spanish), NIH Director Zerhouni, and NHLBI Director Nabel and footage of families, foods, and We Can! resources will be fed on the following days and times:

Tuesday, May 31, 2:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m Eastern time (1430 to 1445)and Wednesday, June 1, 10:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Satellite Name: IA-6 (formerly Telstar 6) C-Band
Transponder: 24H Ch. 24
Audio: 6.2 & 6.8
Downlink Frequency: 4180 MHz

For general questions regarding the newsfeed, contact Maureen at 800-766-1711, ext. 239 or For interviews, contact the NHLBI Communications Office at 301-496-4236.


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