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Advocate Spotlight: Kristen Waters

I’ve been with the American Heart Association as the Nebraska Communications Director for the past two years, but my time with AHA extends beyond that.

Let me take you back to 2008. I was living in the big city - our nation’s capital – and working for a big time trade association on their advocacy team. I was making good money and living in the heart of a city I loved for its politics, rich history, and culture. It was the end of summer, and the presidential election between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama was as heated as I’ve ever seen. I had just returned from a weekend trip to my favorite little getaway, Gettysburg, PA, when I received a phone call from my parents. They told me that my dear, sweet and only surviving grandparent, “Grams” was diagnosed with heart disease and was in heart failure, but that I “shouldn’t worry” that there was “plenty of time,” and “all sorts of medications” to keep her going. I hung up the phone feeling like I had just been stabbed and all the air from my chest had been sucked out. “Not my Grams,” I thought. She was the one person in my life who believed in me, when maybe my parents wished I was using my head a little more than my heart. She taught me to embrace my free spirit and to explore the vast curiosity I had for life and living.  I knew at that moment that I wanted to move back to Nebraska to spend time with her, to learn more about our family history, and to sit out on her deck to watch the sun set its beautiful colors across the lake as we chat about everything and nothing all at the same time.

I never got to do any of that, though. By the time I made it back to Nebraska, “Grams” fell in her living room floor and was rushed to the hospital, where she suffered 3 heart attacks. She was brought back to life twice with CPR and an AED. The last heart attack took her sweet soul from this earth and without a chance for me to even say goodbye. The ironic thing is, while she was being rushed to the ER, I was casually making the 4-hour drive to her house to spend Thanksgiving with her and my parents, who were already there. My parents never let on that anything was wrong, not until I drove into the driveway that night to find a house without my Grams.

Shortly before her passing, I had started working for a television station as a news producer. Our station proudly sponsored the American Heart Association and many of its fundraising and awareness events. In 2009, I started attending the Go Red For Women Expo, making a donation each time in honor of my grandmother. Soon, I was attending the Heart Walk’s, too, always walking in memory of my Grams. Then, in 2012 I had the chance to work for the American Heart Association as the Communications Director in Nebraska. I could not think of a better way to honor and remember the woman who I had such a special bond with, a woman I loved with my entire heart.  When I look at where my life is now, I know she would be so proud of me; though, she’d probably be mad that I never left Nebraska again, but proud nonetheless. I even named my adopted shelter Puggle, Ms. Charlie Rose, in part, after her.

My grandma may have been old, but she still had a lot of life left to live. She didn’t have to die the way that she did. And neither do so many others. And that’s why, each and every day, I make it my job, literally, to spread awareness in the fight against our No.1 killer, so that others don’t lose their loved ones a day, a month, a year, or a decade too soon. When people ask why I do what I do at the American Heart Association, the answer is simple, Rosemary Jean Waters … my “Grams”…is why.

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State of Obesity Report: Nebraska

In recognition of Childhood Obesity Awareness month, we are pleased to be able to provide our advocates with the most recent statistics on obesity in our state and across the nation. The State of Obesity Report (formerly F as in Fat), a project of the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides a close-up look at our progress toward reducing obesity across all populations and demographics, and the work that lies ahead of us to ensure our kids are growing up healthy and strong. 

For the past 11 years, this report has raised awareness about the serious nature of obesity, and encouraged the creation of a national obesity prevention strategy.  The American Heart Association has worked alongside our partners at the Trust and RWJ Foundation, and others, to develop effective approaches for reversing the obesity epidemic at the local, state and federal level. 

We are pleased to see this report reflects that childhood obesity appears to be stabilizing among all children ages 0-18 – that is, it is not going up as significantly as in previous years.  However, much of the stabilization is among ages birth – two years old; unfortunately, the obesity rate among high school students has continued to increase over the past two years.

As you know, obesity has a dramatic impact on other chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and stroke, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and other serious illnesses. 

Nebraska is ranked 23rd among all states and the District of Columbia with obesity rate of 29.6%.  That is an increase of more than 18% since 1990, and a 6% increase in the last ten years.  We have a lot of work to do to bring obesity rates down among all age groups, and racial and ethnic disparities continue to exist. 

The report also highlights the various policy objectives that are important in our fight to reduce obesity.  Policy change at the local, state and federal level all can have a dramatic impact on reducing the impact of obesity.  In Nebraska, we can change the upward direction of obesity by encouraging physical activity before, during and after school, by ensuring our kids have healthy school lunches, improving access to healthy and affordable food, and reducing sodium consumption. 

Combatting obesity in our communities will take dedication, focus, innovation and cooperation.  Please join us in this fight!  Let us know obesity prevention is a priority for you and that you want to help us in our efforts.  Sign in to your profile at www.yourethecure.org and click on your name in the upper right corner.  Under the Interests tab, check Obesity Prevention and Nutrition, or send me and email and let me know of your interest. 

For more on the full State of Obesity report, CLICK HERE.  For Nebraska specific information, CLICK HERE

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AHA Applauds CVS Decision to Ban Tobacco Products

Last February, CVS Caremark Corp. announced it would end the sale of tobacco products by Oct. 1, becoming the first national pharmacy chain to do so. The company noted their decision would result in a $2 billion loss in revenue, including $1.5 billion in direct tobacco sales and $500,000 in related purchases. But the company decided that selling tobacco was not in keeping with its broad mission of providing health services and advancing innovation.  This week, CVS, which also announced it will change its name to CVS Health, announced it will pull tobacco products from it's shelves almost a month earlier than planned.  We applaud CVS for taking this important step forward in reducing access to these deadly products, and we applaud their courage to put public health above profits.

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following statement on the decision by CVS Caremark to phase out tobacco sales:

“Smoking is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., killing 443,000 Americans and costing the nation $193 billion in healthcare expenses and lost productivity each year, according to a Surgeon General’s report released last month.

Today’s decision by CVS Caremark is an important step forward in reducing access to these deadly products, and we applaud their courage to put public health above profits.  We recognize that $2 billion in tobacco sales represents a significant sum for CVS Caremark, and that makes this decision even more admirable.

First use of cigarettes occurs by 18 years of age 87% of the time, and nearly all (98%) of first use is by 26 years of age.  There is no such thing as a ‘casual smoker’, as nicotine begins to addict immediately, and therefore removing the visibility and the availability of tobacco products from major retailers in an important step in preventing youth from ever having that first tobacco product.  Tobacco displays have a tremendous impact on our youth, with a direct corollary between exposure to tobacco marketing in stores and smoking initiation.   5.6 million young Americans who are alive today will die from smoking – unless there are more actions like this one today.

Many of our public health partners have joined us in our call for pharmacies to stop selling tobacco products, including the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association. In fact, in 2010, the American Pharmacists Association urged pharmacies to stop selling tobacco and pushed state pharmacy boards to discontinue issuing and renewing licenses of pharmacies that sell these products.

The timing of the announcement today comes just weeks after the 50th anniversary of the historic first Surgeon General’s Report, which concluded that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer.  Since that 1964 report, evidence has linked smoking to diseases of nearly all the body’s organs.

Tobacco use persists as the leading preventable cause of heart disease and stroke in our country.  Indications of heart disease such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, increased tendency for blood clots, decrease of HDL (good) cholesterol as well as a decreased tolerance for exercise are all directly tied to tobacco use.  Inhaling cigarette smoke produces several effects that damage the cerebrovascular system, leading to stroke. In fact, the most recent Surgeon General’s report established more new links, including one between exposure to second-hand smoke and a 20 to 30 percent increased risk for stroke.

On the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report, the American Heart Association stood alongside many public health partners in Washington, DC, and called for a new national commitment to end the tobacco epidemic for good.  We called for bold action to achieve three goals: 1) Reduce smoking rates, currently at about 18 percent, to less than 10 percent within 10 years; 2) protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years; and 3) ultimately eliminate the death and disease caused by tobacco.  Today’s action by CVS Caremark represents a positive step forward for this vision.

We call upon other tobacco retailers, in particular pharmacies that play a role in protecting the health of Americans, to follow the excellent example being set by CVS Caremark, and discontinue the sales of this deadly product.”


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AHA Issues Statement on E-Cigs

Electronic cigarettes might help some people quit smoking, but the American Heart Association recommends them only as a last resort and only with several notes of caution.

AHA President Elliott Antman, M.D., underscored the careful approach Tuesday, a day after the organization’s first policy statement on e-cigarettes drew widespread media attention.  The policy statement called for strong new regulations to prevent access, sales and marketing of e-cigarettes to youth.

To read more, CLICK HERE.  

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Lincoln Recognized for Acute Heart Event Response

No one wants to have a heart attack, and if you do have one, you hope that you get the right care, in the right amount of time.  Lincoln residents can rest assured that their EMS and heart attack systems of care are up to the task of providing the necessary response.  Recently, Lincoln NE made the list for "Top Ten Cities for Having a Heart Attack." This distinction results from having exceptional service and exceptional survival rates for people with symptoms of a heart attack who call 911. 

One of the keys to a positive outcome from a heart attack is calling 9-1-1 at the first sign of a possible heart attack.  Some heart attacks are sudden and intense -- the "movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often the people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are some of the signs that can mean a heart attack is happening.

  • Chest Discomfort
    Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.     
  • Discomfort in Other Areas of the Upper Body 
    Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.     
  • Shortness of Breath 
    This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort. But it can occur before the chest discomfort.     
  • Other Signs
    These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
If you or someone you're with has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other signs, don't wait. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services staff can begin treatment when they arrive -- up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. The staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. You'll also get treated faster in the hospital if you come by ambulance. Coronary heart disease is the No. 1 single cause of death in the United States. Knowledge of the warning signs for these events can help you deal with them effectively.
We applaud the efforts of our EMS personnel in Lincoln NE for their outstanding efforts in the system of care.  For more on this article, CLICK HERE.  

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Advocate Spotlight: Quality Physical Education - What is it?

Breon Schroeder Derby Spearfish SD and Chadron NE

Some individuals may remember a time where ‘gym’ class revolved around an unstructured chaos of playing dodge-ball, being picked last for teams, and sitting on the sidelines while the instructor focused on getting his or her athletes prepared for the big game. This ‘roll out the ball’ era is a stigma that continues to plague the field of physical education.

Having progressed well beyond ‘gym’ class, the field, as its name suggests, focuses on education; a continuous process that provides individuals with the knowledge, skills, tools, and resources necessary to enhance their well-being throughout their lifetime. Unlike other content areas, physical education focuses on the development of the whole child by emphasizing the three domains of learning: 1). Cognitive, 2). Affective and, 3). Psychomotor.

Physical education not only provides individuals with the opportunity to engage in physical activity, but it also offers a diverse, standards-based curriculum and a variety of quality assessment practices so that each student can find something they enjoy and will continue to participate in throughout their lifetime. In addition, the physical education environment fosters real-world skills essential to being successful in today’s competitive job market, such as teamwork, cooperation, and responsibility. Physical education also plays a crucial role when it comes to high stakes testing and financial gain for school districts, as several studies have shown a link between physical activity and academic success.   “Exercise improves learning on three levels: first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus” (Ratey, 2008, p.53).  It has been proven that healthier students learn better (CDC, 2014a). Quality physical education can aid in student success by decreasing absenteeism, increasing fitness levels, and enhancing cognitive function.

However, despite the vast advantages physical education provides, including the education on the one thing people use every day, their bodies, it is often the first content area to be let go when school districts are faced with budget cuts.  With over $147 billion dollars spent annually on preventable, obesity-related illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers (CDC, 2014b), educating students on the importance of lifetime physical activity through quality, daily physical education could have a substantial impact on both the health and economic status of our nation. If people are truly concerned about the success and well-being of our students, our future, they will get informed and become an advocate for quality, daily physical education.

Breon Schroeder Derby has a B.S in Physical education with minors in health and coaching from Black Hills State University in Spearfish. She has a M.Ed in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in PE from Chadron State College and is currently working on her dissertation to complete her Doctorate in Health Education from A.T Still University. Breon taught physical and health education at Lead Deadwood High School and for the past two years was an instructor in the HPER department at Chadron State College. She currently serves as instructor of HPER at BHSU.

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E-cigs: How they are Winning the War

According to a recently published online article, electronic cigarette companies are quietly winning the war on regulation by successfully lobbying state legislatures to exclude them from tobacco control laws. And their tactics are strategic and creative.  According to the article (posted Aug 4, 2014 on www.vox.com), "Public health officials and smoke-free advocates say industry-sponsored bills have the veneer of public health—with provisions about banning sales to minors—but avoid the more stringent rules other tobacco products must abide by." Neighboring states South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado are listed among the 6 states in the U.S. to define e-cigarettes as tobacco products.  For more on this article, CLICK HERE.  

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Many schools prepared for new federal lunch standards

Thousands of schools around the country have found new ways of providing “smart” snacks for students – well in advance of updated federal lunch standards that begin with the upcoming school year.

Schools across the country will be following updated Department of Agriculture rules governing snacks, drinks in vending machines, stores and à la carte lines. The guidelines — which begin for the 2014-2015 school year — limit the amount of calories, fat, and sugar, while encouraging whole grains, reduced fat, fruits and vegetables. For more on this story, CLICK HERE.  

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Smoking Linked to Increased Risk of Dementia

We've known for years of the increased health risks caused by smoking and tobacco-related products.  A new study now links smoking with an increased risk of dementia.  The World Health Organization (WHO) and Alzheimer’s Disease International are reporting, based on a review of scientific studies, that smokers have a 45 percent higher risk of developing dementia compared to non-smokers.  

Tobacco use is the world’s number one cause of preventable death, killing about six million people worldwide each year.  Without strong action, tobacco use is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century.  The links between smoking and dementia reinforce the urgent need to address this global epidemic. For more on this story, CLICK HERE.   

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School Nutrition: Help to Solve the Nutrition Puzzle

Congress is working on appropriations bills and school nutrition standards have been a hot topic in the agriculture appropriations debate.  The House bill would allow schools to get waivers from these standards and the Senate bill would delay the sodium standards supported by the AHA.  Other amendments of concern to health advocates have also been discussed.  Thanks to AHA advocate interest and activation, in coordination with our larger coalition, we have been able to turn the debate around on this issue and ensure Members were hearing all sides on this important issue. Given differences on this issue and others, as well as the leadership shake-up in the House, it is looking less likely that Congress will pass an agriculture appropriations bill this year, and will instead aim to pass a continuing resolution.

Given what’s happening (or not happening) with appropriations, we will now shift our attention to a long-term strategy.  Next year, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is up for reauthorization, which means many of the same battles we fought over the last couple months will emerge again.  That’s why it’s critical that we continue to stress to Congress that the nutrition standards should not be delayed or weakened.  

How can you help?  During the August recess, we will continue the drum beat on this issue, and we have an exciting drop-by activity for the recess break.  Our message to Congress is that healthy school meals ‘fit’ into a successful school day for kids- and that we’re ‘puzzled’ by efforts to weaken or delay the important nutrition standards.  To help our advocates deliver that message, we’ve created puzzle pieces, 4 of which fit together to display a healthy school meal and 1 showing unhealthy food that doesn’t fit.  Each puzzle piece contains a fact on the back.  We’re asking for your help to deliver these puzzle pieces to the district offices of targeted Members next month.  

If school nutrition is an important issue to you, and you are concerned about obesity prevention, especially among our youth, then we need your help!  Please email Pamela Miller and volunteer to do a drop-by visit at one of our federal district offices.  Drop-by visits are a great way to earn You're the Cure points, as well as engage our federal lawmakers on issues important right here in our state.  We will provide you with the puzzle pieces and a few talking points to assist you in your visit.  Better yet - bring a child along with you and encourage their involvement on an issue that affects them directly!  

August recess is the perfect time to talk with our lawmakers about heart-health issues - and school nutrition is on the top of the list! Email Pamela Miller today and volunteer to help put school nutrition puzzle together!  

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