As 1999 draws to a close, two programs that emphasize health for young people are celebrating their birthdays.

"Jump Rope for Heart," a school-based program sponsored by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and the American Heart Association (AHA), turned 20 this year. The national program aims to educate kids about health, fitness and the importance of regular exercise. How does the program do it? By running jump rope contests.

The contests raise money for medical research and for education programs that help prevent heart disease and stroke. During the past 20 years, thousands of kids around the country have taken part in Jump Rope for Heart fund-raisers at their schools. Kids participate by asking family members, friends and neighbors to sponsor them. It's a fun way to make a difference in the battle against heart disease--and get some exercise at the same time.

Although symptoms of heart disease may not show up until a person is middle-aged or older, a study released by the AHA this month suggests that heart disease actually begins developing in childhood.

"Heart disease prevention should begin in childhood, when it's easier to establish healthy habits and correct harmful ones before the damage begins," said E. Murat Tuzcu, a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic who conducted the study.

To get a head start in fighting against heart disease, kids should try to stay fit, eat healthful foods and avoid smoking.

You may think jumping rope is just a playground game for little kids. Think again! Jumping rope at a pace of 130 skips per minute burns calories as if you're running nine-minute miles, according to the book "Ropics" (Human Kinetics Press). Jumping helps increase strength, working all the body's major muscle groups. And it's easier on the knees than running. In addition, the AHA says, jumping rope develops heart and lung strength and improves muscular endurance, coordination, balance and flexibility.

While the jump-ropers are partying, another celebration is going on at Girl Power!, which marked its third birthday last week.

Why did the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services start a health promotion program just for girls? Because health experts were worried that many girls tend to drop out of sports when they reach their teenage years.

The AHA and Girl Power! agree that including physical activity as a regular part of daily life is one of the most important things girls can do to improve fitness.

What do you do for your body? Do you get enough exercise? These tips from Girl Power! make sense for boys and girls.

* Each day, young people should do about 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity, like walking or riding a bike.

* At least three times a week, challenge yourself to 15 to 20 minutes of more intense activity, like jogging or one-on-one basketball.

* Try to make every day an active day. Avoid long periods when you are completely inactive. Choose activities that you like to do.

You might even try jumping rope!

TIPS FOR PARENTS

People and groups interested in the Girl Power! campaign can call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) at 1-800-729-6686 or visit the Web site www.health.org/gpower. To organize a Jump Rope for Heart event, contact your local American Heart Association office by calling 1-800-242-8721 or visiting www.americanheart.org on the Web.

FOR YOU TO DO

What's a birthday celebration without something sweet to eat? Try this recipe from "The New American Heart Association Cookbook, 25th Anniversary Edition." What's healthful about these brownies? They're made with buttermilk. Buttermilk is low in fat and cholesterol. Before you gather your ingredients, remember to ask for permission to use the kitchen and for help using the oven. Here's what you'll need:

* 1 cup all-purpose flour

* 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

* 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

* 1/4 teaspoon salt

* whites of 2 large eggs

* 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

* 1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk

* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray and set it aside. In a medium bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt, stirring well. In a small bowl, lightly whisk egg whites. Whisk in eggs, applesauce, milk and vanilla. Whisk ingredients from small bowl into flour mixture until well blended. Pour batter into baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool in pan on cooling rack. Makes 16 brownies.