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Monday 6 May 2024

Guest Post: Q & A with Alexia Paglia: My Strong Heart

At only 24 years of age, Sydney’s Alexia Paglia is adding to her already growing list of achievements by releasing a new children’s book all about maintaining good heart health called My Strong Heart, just in time for Heart Health Week from 6th to 12th May.

With cardiovascular disease (CVD) affecting 1 in 4 Australians (that’s over 4 million people), clinical researcher and medical student Alexia Paglia's mission is to lower the rates of CVD, improve health outcomes and educate children at a young age so they can take positive health behaviours well into adulthood. As well as recently winning a Young Citizen of the Year Award for her volunteer work in educating children about their health, My Strong Heart is Alexia’s first children’s book in a series of Dr Zig Zaccy Zoo books on living a healthy lifestyle.

Tell us about My Strong Heart
My Strong Heart is a fun and engaging children’s book that aims to teach kids from three to eight years about how their heart functions and also how to keep it healthy through diet and exercise. The book has fun illustrations and rhyming text so kids will have fun reading it and learning about heart health! Told by Dr Zig Zaccy Zoo - who teaches eager young scientists Luca and Lex along the way - My Strong Heart educates in a way that guides impressionable minds toward healthy life choices now and into the future.

Why is learning about heart health so important?
CVD is Australia’s number one killer. One in six Australians self-report as living with a cardiovascular condition – that’s over four million people in Australia! Yet one in five Australian adults are unable to name a symptom of a heart attack and only around half can can recognise chest pain as a vital warning sign. That is why I have written this book; to increase health literacy and empower Australians to advocate for their own health and lower the rates of CVD. Even more broadly,60% of the Australian population have low levels of health literacy. This challenges individuals' ability to access necessary care due to a lack of understanding about their own bodies and a diminished awareness of crucial signs and symptoms.

Who is the target audience of this book?

My Strong Heart is aimed at children aged three to eight, so I encourage mums and dads, carers, teachers, and educators to put this book into homes, schools, and libraries. Heart Health Week is the best time to purchase a copy of this book and read it with your little ones!

What are the benefits of teaching kids about heart health?
I have aimed this book at children because healthy behaviours should be established early in life. The research has shown that when healthy behaviours are established at a young age, it reduces a person’s risk of developing chronic conditions - such as heart disease - well into the future. I believe Dr Zig Zaccy Zoo and all this helpful advice is an important resource for children and families, to help improve health outcomes and overall wellbeing for Australians. I look forward to continuing the Dr Zig Zaccy Zoo series with a mission to get Australia healthy!

Why do you think CVD is the country’s number one killer?
Cardiovascular Disease has a strong lifestyle component meaning diet and exercise matter and I promote the importance of these behaviours in the book. According to a 2022 health survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only one in four people aged 15 years and over met physical activity recommendations and nearly half of all employed adults (46.9%) aged 18-64 described their day at work as mostly sitting at a desk. This is a major risk factor for CVD, as it smoking and drinking alcohol.

What are the top four vital health messages of My Strong Heart?
1. The importance of a balanced diet

2. Active play and making exercise a regular part of the day

3. Regular check-ups with the GP

4. Sharing heart health knowledge with others

You’ve worked as a clinical researcher and you’re currently studying medicine. What motivated you to become a children’s book author?
I’ve always loved learning and I have been very curious from a young age. For me, medicine emerged as a natural path to satisfy this curiosity, make a positive impact, while also nurturing a desire to ignite similar inquisitiveness in others. Through my medical journey, I aspire to leverage my knowledge to empower individuals to become advocates for their own well-being. Penning the Dr. Zig Zaccy Zoo series is yet another avenue through which I aim to achieve this goal. My commitment to educating young minds about health is exemplified in My Strong Heart, the first installment of many to follow, with the second book already underway.

Finally, you were awarded the City of Canada Bay Council’s Young Citizen of the Year! Was that a stepping stone to becoming an author?
In addition to my writing pursuits, I've been actively involved in volunteer work. I dedicated my time to St. Vincent's De Paul Society, where I organized initiatives such as Christmas and Easter hampers, book drives, and providing food for the homeless.

Furthermore, I volunteered at the Sydney Children’s Hospital School, where I facilitated weekly lessons. These sessions were designed to delve into the key concepts and themes of my book, encompassing a broad spectrum of learning including general science and health education, along with engaging hands-on experiments. My overarching goal is to extend the impact of these lessons by fervently promoting science and health education among all young learners

Author, Clinical Researcher and medical student, Alexia Paglia is the author of My Strong Heart. With a passion for reading and a natural flair for storytelling, Alexia's love for writing and education shines through her work. Currently studying a Doctor of Medicine at the University of Wollongong, Alexia's studies fuel her mission to advance health literacy and pioneer inclusive medical science, educational initiatives. Recognised as the 2023 Young Citizen of the Year for the Canada Bay Council, Alexia is deeply committed to democratising healthcare access and community service. Through her captivating storytelling, Alexia endeavors to inspire young minds to embrace curiosity and knowledge, utilising her children's book as a powerful tool for a healthier, brighter future.

Connect with Alexia through her Dr Zia Zaccy Zoo website or follow her on Instagram.