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Medical Students Turned Advocates

Peter Evans, Christina Cahill and Lana Khuong know there is more than one way to save a life. They’ve organized CPR trainings, worked on tobacco cessation counseling protocols, coordinated cardiovascular research and fundraisers, and helped create healthy living lessons for adolescents.

They’re studying to become physicians at the University of Vermont’s Medical School, but they know that passing policy can also save lives. Lana said she was eager to become a part of a movement in which the government and civilians join to promote the well-being for all. So, all three have joined the American Heart Association’s Advocacy Committee.  

And we’re glad they did. Just recently, they talked about the dangers of sugary drinks and urged volunteers at the Vermont Heart Walk to sign petitions to Vermont legislators to pass legislation improving the availability and pricing of healthy food. They had a great time doing it and are eager to help us spread the word. Go team advocacy!

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Sharing Your Story Can Save Lives!

There is nothing that brings about public and legislative support for an issue more than a real-life story from someone close to home.

Your personal stories can make our advocacy issues real by putting a face to a cause. Please share your stories about how sugary drinks or obesity have impacted you, your family, students or patients. Just email me at tina.zuk@heart.org if you have a story to share.

 Sometimes hearing just one story is all it takes to build a champion for an issue. Take, for instance Kristi Soule who shared her story at the Vermont Heart Walk.

 My life was forever changed on August 16, 2012. While out running a familiar 4 mile loop with my partner Luke, I suffered sudden cardiac arrest. I was 35 years young and there is no history of heart disease in my family. With years of CPR and AED training, Luke responded quickly. Drivers passing by retrieved an AED from a nearby business and Luke performed CPR until the emergency responders arrived. His efforts and the care I received from the medical professionals on site and at the hospital couldn't have occurred more perfectly. It was a miracle. Being with someone who knew CPR, and having an AED close by saved my life. Please help support our efforts to get more people CPR trained and make AEDs more accessible across Vermont.

 How could you say no? You wouldn't, I wouldn’t, and neither would a legislator.

 You have a story to tell, and your story can make a difference. Please help us save lives by telling your story. Email me today or give me a call at 802-578-3466 .

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A Victory for Improving Our Communities in the Commonwealth

Complete Streets Will Help Increase Options for Safe Physical Activity and Better Access Healthy Foods. The MA Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced that they are launching a $3 to $5 million pilot project for the Complete Streets Certification Program! This means cities and towns will be able to apply for funding to make local streets safer and more inviting for people to walk, run, and bike. This will result in better health for Massachusetts residents, who will have more opportunities to be active, reducing chronic disease. This is especially true in low-income communities, which currently have fewer places, sidewalks, and bikeways for residents to safely be outdoors and be active. It also supports the state’s goal to triple the number of people that walk, bike and take public transit. 

Thanks to a lot of hard work by you our advocates and our partners we were able to get the MA Legislature to include language from the initial Active Streets bill in the Transportation Bond bill, along with $50 million of bond funding over five years. We worked with MassDOT- urging them to move forward on this new program (and start appropriating the bond-funded money to municipalities) sooner than later. And that’s just what they are doing- launching a pilot project for a brand new program to award upwards of $5 million this year. 

Even with this great news of $5 million, there’s more work to do– and we’ll still need your help-to get the remaining $45 million appropriated and awarded to municipalities. This will be a key opportunity for our new governor in 2015 to be a leader for healthier communities!

 

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THE HEALTHY INCENTIVES PILOT

The Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) investigated the im­pact of making fruits and vegetables more affordable for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assis­tance Program (SNAP). The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 authorized funds for pilot projects to determine if providing financial incentives to SNAP recipients at the point of sale would increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables, or other health­ful foods. On the basis of this legislative authority, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) designed HIP.

Under HIP, SNAP participants received a fi­nancial incentive for the purchase of fruits and vegetables. Specifically, for every dollar of SNAP benefits the household spent on targeted fruits and vegetables (TFV) in participating retailers, 30 cents in SNAP benefits was added back to their EBT card. TFVs included fresh, canned, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables without added sugars, fats, oils or salt, but excluded white potatoes and 100% fruit juice.

The Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) implemented the pilot in Hamp­den County. Located in western Massachusetts, Hampden County is a mix of urban, rural, and subur­ban areas with approximately 55,000 SNAP house­holds and the lowest median household income in the State. Massachusetts, like the rest of the country, suffers from an obesity epidemic, and residents in the western region have the highest rates of obesity and related chronic illnesses in the State.

Just last week the MA DTA released findings on the Pilot Program:

  • HIP increased fruit and vegetable consumption of pilot participants. HIP participants consumed almost a quarter of a cup more targeted fruits and vegetables than non-HIP participants. This 26 percent increase in consumption over non-HIP participants is both statistically significant and large enough to be nutritionally relevant.
  • HIP impacts were not affected by the presence of children in the household, employment status, age, or amount of the household’s SNAP benefit. Some evidence indicated that impacts were larger for households who before HIP had more posi­tive attitudes about fruits and vegetables.
  • HIP households spent more SNAP benefits than non-HIP households on targeted fruits and veg­etables in participating supermarkets and su­perstores—$12.05 versus $10.86 each month—an increase of $1.19 or 11 percent. HIP households earned average incentives of $3.65 each month. Average monthly purchases of targeted fruits and vegetables by HIP households were similar throughout the pilot and were less than originally anticipated.
  • According to self-reports, HIP households spent $78.17 each month on all fruits and vegetables in all types of stores and with cash as well as SNAP benefits. In contrast, non-HIP households report­ed spending $72.02 each month, which was $6.15 (or 8.5 percent) less than spending reported by HIP households.
  • HIP participants clearly responded to the price incentive and used their SNAP benefits to pur­chase more targeted fruits and vegetables. How­ever, the amount of TFVs they purchased with their SNAP benefits in HIP participating stores was insufficient to account for their entire in­creased intake. This suggests that HIP affected consumption through other mechanisms as well, such as informational and attitudinal effects, and may also suggest an incomplete understanding of how the pilot worked.
  • HIP had relatively little effect on store opera­tions. Most retailers reported that HIP purchases were easy to process. Over 90 percent of retailers reported no change in check-out time. Few retail­ers reported problems during the pilot.
  • HIP might have induced retailers to increase their supply of fruits and vegetables to attract HIP households, but only a minority of retailers reported such changes during the pilot.
  • HIP increased SNAP redemptions at Hampden County retailers due to the incentives earned, but because incentive earnings were small, the im­pact on retailer sales was also small. Most SNAP spending occurred in supermarkets, superstores, and grocery stores, and HIP participating retail­ers in these categories experienced the HIP-relat­ed spending increase.

HIP was an innovative and complex project. With these results it would be something that could be considered to replicate not only across the Commonwealth but for other States. The experience in Hampden County demonstrat­ed that HIP was both technically and operational­ly feasible. Projected start-up costs to expand HIP nationwide are estimated to be $89.8 million. The projected value of incentives with nationwide ex­pansion, based on plausible scenarios about SNAP households’ fruit and vegetable spending, ranges from $0.8 billion to $4.5 billion annually.

 

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Why New Hampshire Should Raise its Cigarette Tax

Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death, for heart disease and stroke and other chronic diseases. NH’s last cigarette tax increase was in 2009. Two years later, the state gave in to tobacco industry pressure and decreased its tobacco tax! At the same time, the industry raised its own price on cigarettes, so that while NH lost millions of dollars in tax revenues, Big Tobacco gained millions of dollars in new revenues, and the price of cigarettes did not change. NH’s youth rate of smoking at 13.8% is the highest of all the states in the northeast, while our state excise tax at $1.78 is the lowest. As a matter of fact, of the top 10 states in the nation with the highest tobacco tax rates, 6 are in the northeast! Why are cigarette taxes of interest to the American Heart Association and its partners? Studies have shown that youth use of tobacco decreases 7% when the retail price increases by 10%. NH could have a substantial increase in the tobacco tax and still not reach the Founders Affiliate average state tax rate of $3.00 per pack. We have a long way to go, and its time NH raised its tobacco tax rate to make tobacco product prices high enough to entice smokers to quit and prevent youth from starting. It would save lives by decreasing the number of youth and adults who smoke and who will ultimately pay the highest price from this deadly habit.

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NYC Smoking Rates Increase!

Scary but true - more New Yorkers are smoking today than they were just 4 years ago!  The New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene just released data from their Community Healthy Survey that shows that smoking prevalence has increased to 16.1% in 2013 from a low of 14% in 2010.  For the first time in 7 years, New York City is home to more than 1 million smokers!  While our city has done so much to try to curb smoking, Big Tobacco is addicting more New Yorkers every day.  What is causing this increase?  We know there are three main pillars for effective tobacco control - a Smoke Free Air Law (check); a high excise tax (check - although we're no longer #1 in that category); and a well-funded tobacco control program.  Unfortunately, over the past 7 years, New York City's tobacco control program has been reduced by 36 percent.  We can do better.  We must do more to protect New Yorkers' heart-health!  Perhaps it's time that we revisit these three strongest tobacco policy interventions to see what more we can do!

Ask your Councilmember and Mayor deBlasio why we’re going in the wrong direction...Ask them to recommit to the fight to end smoking...Click on the following link: http://yourethecure.org/aha/advocacy/composeletters.aspx?AlertID=35485

To learn more about the new smoking rates, visit the city's website: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/pr2014/pr035-14.shtml

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Protecting the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act

written by Violet Ruiz, Government Relations Director, Greater Los Angeles

The U.S. is in the midst of a full-blown obesity epidemic that has disproportionately affected our children. Currently, nearly one third of children are overweight or obese. The health consequences of obesity in children are staggering. Recent research shows that an obese child’s arteries can resemble those of a middle-aged adult and obese adolescents have an overwhelming chance of becoming obese adults. Students consume 35%-50% of their daily caloric intake at school, where they are often exposed to junk foods and sugary drinks that have little to no nutritional value. Schools can institute a healthy environment by promoting and proving nutritious meals. 

In 2012, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act went into effect and for the first time in generations, the national school lunch, breakfast, and competitive foods nutrition standards were updated.  We know that nutritious school foods are essential to heart health, teaching life-long healthy habits, and helping children perform better academically- and there is strong evidence that the new standards are making a difference. Yet there are some in Congress who want to turn back the clock and slow the progress in providing children healthy foods in schools. 

During the month of August, You’re the Cure Advocates made special deliveries to legislators across the county in support of healthy school meals and snacks.  Our message to Congress was that that healthy school meals ‘fit’ into a successful school day for kids- and we are ‘puzzled’ by efforts to weaken or delay the important nutrition standards. Advocates delivered over 70 puzzles, in which 4 puzzle pieces fit together to display a healthy school meal and 1 piece shows unhealthy food that doesn’t fit.

The USDA has reported that over 91% of schools are meeting the updated nutrition standards, up from just 14% of schools meeting the old standards in 2009-2010. This demonstrates that schools are willing and able to make these important changes. Experts also agree that the USDA is doing a good job in providing training and technical assistance to schools. They have been responsive to school food service feedback, adjusting guidance, and proving flexibility. Furthermore, Harvard researchers found the updated school meal(s) standards have led to increased fruit and vegetable consumption.

Together we can take a stand and urge Congress to continue protecting healthy school meals. Kids are adjusting to the new meals and appropriate portion sizes. A healthy school environment helps improve children’s physical well-being, enhances learning, can minimize behavior problems, and increase attendance.

If you are interested in protecting healthy school nutrition standards in your community, please contact your local Government Relations Director for Volunteer opportunities. You can also call or write your local congressional legislator to take action now!

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Back to School - Join Us As We Advocate for Healthy Policies for Our Children

written by Marc Watterson, Government Relations Director, Utah

Like many of you, I look forward to the fall season! Truth be told I’m not a huge fan of the heat and I have always loved Utah’s cooler fall climate. Fall brings with it many wonderful things – the excitement of professional, college, and high school football, little-league soccer, shopping sales, and the beginning of a new school year.

This year was a completely new one for me as a parent as our oldest daughter began kindergarten! It was a bittersweet moment as we helped her get ready that first morning and watched her board the bus for her first day of school. Her excitement was contagious as she anxiously got to her seat and began waving to us through the school bus window. We continued to wave as the bus pulled down the street and out of sight.

I can only imagine how many times this same scene played out across the state as many of you watched children or grandchildren leave for school.

As parents – or even relatives – to these young children, we want the very best for them. We want them to grow up in a world full of opportunities, where they can fulfill their dreams and aspirations. Whatever the situation, wherever they might be, we want to make sure that children are provided with the best, and safest, environment possible.

This became very apparent to me this past year as – like many of you – we heard tragic stories of young children who were hurt or killed on their way to and from school. The stories pull at our heartstrings as we realize how important safe routes to school are and just how fragile life can be. It is the recognition of the importance of life that fuels us as advocates for the American Heart Association. Together, we have done amazing things!

Just last year we rallied together to encourage the Department of Health to create a new recognition system that identifies those hospitals in the state who strive for the very best in patient care when it comes to treating those who suffer a stroke. Many of you joined with us at the state capitol for our annual Heart on the Hill day where we successfully lobbied our state legislators to restore funding to the CPR and AED in Schools Training Program. Because of you, every sophomore in Utah will have the chance to be trained in CPR and how to use an AED as part of their Health class! Together, we have laid the framework that will help create a generation of lifesavers for years to come!

And while it would be easy to sit back and count our victories, there is still so much more that can be done here in Utah. This year, we set our sights on improving the health of all Utahns – especially our children.

The American Heart Association|American Stroke Association is teaming up with the Utah Department of Transportation to encourage our state and local elected officials to ensure our children have a healthier, more walkable pathway to school. We are asking all of you to join us as we encourage policymakers to increase funding for the state’s Safe Routes to School program. This program provides funding for schools and local cities to come together and identify areas of need in their communities. The Safe Routes to School program helps improve sidewalks, create crosswalks, and provide signage that help to keep kids and drivers safe. The AHA|ASA supports the funding of this program because of the potential safety and health impact this could have on our children and communities – all in the goal of improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans!

As part of our efforts we will be hosting a booth at our upcoming Heart|Stroke Walk & Run 5K. We would love to have you stop by and sign a postcard in support of the Safe Routes to School program. We will be delivering these postcards to policymakers across the state! You can also click here to volunteer to help us at the event as we work to raise awareness of this issue amongst the thousands of Heart|Stroke Walk attendees!

As parents and those concerned about the children in our community we have many things that we worry about with our children; the last thing we should have to worry about is if our children have a safe route to travel to school. Please support us as we strive to create healthier, more walkable communities throughout the state!

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The 2014 Nevada Heart & Stroke Walk and Runs are Just Around the Corner

The Heart and Stroke Walk and 5K Run raises awareness and funds for the life-saving mission of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Join us as we celebrate healthy lifestyles and honor those who have fought heart disease and stroke. We’re celebrating in two locations in Nevada:

We need your help! Bring your energy, your passion and your stories. There are lots of ways to get involved:

While you’re there, please don’t forget to stop by the Advocacy booth to sign a postcard in support of life-saving legislation.

This year’s walk promises to be an inspiring and exciting event.  We hope you’ll join us!

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The Power of Your Story: You can make a Difference

written by Ben Schmauss, Government Relations Director, Nevada

I began my journey advocating for a healthier Nevada as the Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association about 9 months ago. During this relatively short time, I have worked on issues like CPR in schools, heart screenings for newborns, healthy vending, state wide wellness programs, smoke-free communities, and obesity to name a few.  I have realized the power of the voice of a dedicated individual with a story to tell.

So it got me to thinking that my experience is not limited to just the 9 months working at the AHA. My life is filled with personal and professional stories that have formed my passion for health and keeps me motivated to fight for heart healthy legislation on a daily basis.. For example, I am originally from Alaska (a state still working to pass CPR in schools legislation), I used to teach physical education so I know the importance of nutrition and staying physically fit, I recently lost a friend who was only 36 years old to a heart attack illustrating that heart disease can affect anyone at any time in their life, and my elementary school had a tradition of ending the school year with a 6 mile run that every student participated in which sparked my passion for running.

All of my life experiences can and have helped in my effort to advocate for a healthier tomorrow for my kids and my fellow Nevadans.  But I realize having a vehicle to achieve my goals of advocating for health is important. That is why I believe in being an engaged member of yourethecure.org (YTC). Personally I love the numerous fact sheets available in the Key Issues section of the website. In addition, I think the Action Center makes it easy to stay up-to-date on legislative updates and makes it extremely easy to communicate with key legislators to make a difference before critical votes. 

If you are reading this and want to increase your footprint on making Nevada a healthier place then get involved today. We are currently working on childhood obesity, clean indoor air, banning the use electronic cigarettes where smoking is already prohibited, CPR in schools, healthy vending, preventive benefits and much more. Call or e-mail me and let’s work together to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

~Ben Schmauss and his Brother Brad Schmauss pictured above

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