Newswise — Heart disease is the leading cause of death among people with diabetes. In a unique upbeat program, professor and nurse practitioner Terri Lipman, PhD, CRNP, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, encourages children to ward off diabetes and hip-hop their way to good health.

In the “Dance for Health” program, Penn Nursing partners with Philadelphia’s Sayre High School and the Bernett Johnson Sayre Health Center in West Philadelphia to assess and improve physical activity among school-aged children, with the goal of lowering the risk for obesity, a key factor in Type 2 diabetes.

Busting cool moves across a wooden gym floor, the Sayre High School dance team led children through one hour of dancing weekly for one month. Using pedometers, the research team found that the students averaged twice as many steps on days they danced.

At the same time, says Dr. Lipman, the children had elevated resting heart rates after exercise, indicating that they were not physically fit. Through Dance for Health, Dr. Lipman aims to change that. “Dancing is not only free, culturally relevant, and fun,” says Dr. Lipman, “it is also an easily accessible way for children to lead a more active lifestyle. Through this program, we aim to promote to schools and healthcare providers the benefits of incorporating dance into children’s lives to improve their overall health.”

The partnership between Penn Nursing and Sayre High School has yielded other benefits, she says. Dr. Lipman and Penn nurse practitioner students host weekly evening dance classes for local children and adults – ages 5 to 91 -- at Sayre High School.

At the same time, they are educating the neighboring community -- demographically at high risk for diabetes -- about prevention through good nutrition, exercise, and recognition of warning signs. In addition to taking basic measurements such as weight, height, and waist circumference, the students also check for acanthosis nigricans, a darkening of the skin associated with obesity and diabetes.

“Our partnership with Sayre has opened the door to a strong relationship with residents of the community around Penn,” says Dr. Lipman. “It has allowed us to work with individuals, schools, and community groups to fight diabetes together.”

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing is one of the premier research institutions in nursing, producing new knowledge in geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology, quality-of-life choices, and other areas. Researchers here consistently receive more research funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other private nursing school, and many Master’s programs are ranked first in the country. This year, faculty, students, alumni, and staff celebrate 125 years of nursing at Penn.