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Introducing 'Life is Why'

Here at the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association we’re excited about our new brand Life is Why and we hope you are excited too! Life is Why was developed to capture the momentum of our growing organization, the passion of our people, and to communicate our mission to one day realize a world free of heart disease and stroke.
 
A celebration of life, Life is Why offers a simple, yet powerful answer to the question of why we do what we do. Simply put, we want people to experience more of life's precious moments. To do that, we all must be healthy in heart and mind. I’ll personally share that my Why as the Director of the You’re the Cure program is YOU! Volunteers are Why I come to work every day. Your stories, your passion, your commitment to create change motivate me.

We know a brand is built by its supporters which makes you a critical part of our brand success. We thank you for helping to make our brand so meaningful by your commitment, achievements and passion. Take a moment to watch our new video that captures the essence of our new brand, Life is Why and let us know what you think!

(Please visit the site to view this video)

 

Clarissa Garcia
Director, Grassroots Advocacy
American Heart Association
Heart Disease and Stroke. You're the Cure.

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New Study: Students Accepting Healthier School Meals

A recent study reveals that most elementary age students are accepting the healthier school meals required by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Despite early complaints from kids when the new menus were introduced in the fall of 2012, researchers found that attitudes about and sales of the healthier meals improved by the second half of the school year.

The study surveyed administrators representing more than 500 public schools to learn about students’ reactions to the new meals, which must include more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and limit sodium and unhealthy fats.  70 percent of schools reported that students seem to like their new lunches and 63 percent said students are no longer concerned about the new changes.

“This significant study reinforces what we have known all along:  America’s school lunch program works,” said American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown.  “We hope this sends a strong message to Congress that schools should not be allowed to withdraw from or delay any federal nutrition standards.  By doing so, we may forfeit the fight against childhood obesity, and jeopardize our kids’ health.”

The survey did reveal that progress has been slower in some areas of the country.  In rural schools, for example, respondents were more likely to say that fewer kids were participating in the lunch program and more were still complaining about the new food offerings.  This highlights the need for continued resources from the USDA to provide support to school food service professionals as they work to meet the new standards with menus that are appealing to kids.

This new data comes at an important time in the legislative process.  The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which directed the USDA to update nutrition standards for school meals and snacks, needs to be reauthorized next year and it has been a hot topic in Congress over the last few month.  Some Members of Congress would like to weaken or delay some of the standards and grant waivers to schools, while others believe the progress being made to improve the quality of food in our nation’s schools is too important to turn back on.

Help us share the data from this new study with your legislators as we urge Congress to protect strong nutrition standards in schools to give every child a head start on a healthy heart.

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Five Questions with Dr. John Warner

I’m pleased to introduce you to Dr. John Warner who recently assumed the role of Chair of the American Heart Association’s National Advocacy Coordinating Committee. Dr. Warner is Chief Executive Officer of UT Southwestern University Hospitals and Clinics and is a Professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Cardiology based in Dallas, Texas. In his new volunteer leadership role, Dr. Warner leads a group of volunteers charged with shaping the organization’s advocacy agenda and the priority issues. Let’s get to know him better in this month’s featured interview…

Q: What personal and professional connections do you have to the fight against heart disease and stroke?
A: I am the first person in my family to pursue a career in medicine, so I did not grow up always wanting to be a doctor.  My father was a CPA, and had hundreds of physicians as clients, many of whom encouraged me to seek a career in medicine.  I was a decent athlete in high school and college and was always interested in physiology and exercise training, and it was there than my interest in the heart was born.  During that same time in my life, both my grandfathers were diagnosed with heart disease, and as I watched the limitations the disease imposed on their lives, I became even more committed to a career in cardiology.
 
Q: Can you tell us about your volunteer history with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association?
A: Like many Cardiologists, my first involvement with the AHA started with Scientific Sessions, attending and presenting abstracts. I served as the President of both the Dallas Division and the Southwest Affiliate and I am currently serving on the National Board.  While I have enjoyed being involved in so many aspects of the AHA's mission, I have derived a lot of satisfaction from working on the Smoke-Free Dallas initiative and the W.W. Caruth Jr. Foundation/Communities Foundation of Texas Dallas County Heart Attack Systems of Care Project.  My volunteer work in Dallas began as a Heart Walk captain, and last year I was so pleased to see 2000 members  of our UT Southwestern community walking together in that important event.
 
Q: What are you most looking forward to as the Chair of the AHA’s national Advocacy Coordinating Committee?  Where do you see our greatest opportunities to make an impact?  
A: In 2012, I made a career move from being a full-time practicing Cardiologist to a Hospital CEO, and I did so primarily to have a broader impact.  I view my AHA service as Chair of the Advocacy Coordinating Committee as a similar opportunity, taking my passion for issues of heart disease and stroke care and applying it to a broader audience.  This is an exciting time to be involved in advocacy, as health and wellness are front and center in the national discussion, and we at the AHA have a unique opportunity to drive important policies and discussions which will impact the health of so many.  As a parent of teenagers, I think often about how Smoke-Free environments and healthy eating will be so important to the environments in which they live and work – and to their overall health.   When I think about how we can make the most impact, I think it begins with our fight against smoking and educating ourselves and our kids about healthy food choices.  I know when I eat healthier, my commitment to exercise improves and exercise follows and vice versa.  So I think our biggest opportunities are in creating environments where healthy eating and exercise are supported and encouraged, both for children and adults, and in working to eliminate smoking.  I also think advocacy for research is really important.  With the cuts in research funding we have seen in recent years, I worry that we may lose a generation of best ideas and scientists.  We have to help our government, and our nation, understand that tomorrow's treatments start with today's research.
   
Q: How have you been involved as a You’re the Cure advocate? 
A: Both in Dallas and in Texas, I have been involved in advocacy for tobacco control and systems of care for heart attack and stroke.  As an Interventional Cardiologist, I know first-hand how important systems of care for heart attack and stroke are, and know that I can make a greater difference as a medical team member when continuous processes are in place to improve patient outcomes.  Having seen the results of our work in Dallas, I want other cities and states to have that same opportunity to improve the health of their community.
 
Q: What would you tell others to encourage them to get involved with advocacy?   
A: Advocacy is so satisfying because your service affects so many people.  When I think about how many people benefit each day from tobacco control in Dallas, from food service workers to restaurant patrons, it makes the seemingly very small amount of time and effort I invested in that effort so worthwhile.   Everything the AHA supports contributes to the health of so many, including me.  

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Where Do Your Candidates Stand?

Federal funding for basic research is an essential step towards achieving medical progress for heart and stroke patients. Over the past decades, we have seen remarkable breakthroughs done at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), such as the development of pacemakers and the discovery of a clot-busting drug used to treat stroke.

However, during the last ten years, the NIH has lost more than 20% of its purchasing power. This dramatic downturn has come at a time when other countries are increasing investments in science and when the need for innovation to prevent, diagnose, and treat heart disease and stroke is great.    

But we can change that by exercising our right to vote in November!  To help voters choose candidates whose values on medical research align with their own, the American Heart Association has partnered with Research!America to launch the 2014 Ask Your Candidates! initiative – a national, non-partisan voter education program that empowers voters to be more informed about their candidates’ views on medical progress. If elected to Congress, what will your candidates do to ensure that discoveries of life-altering or live-saving treatments or cures continue?  Will they support funding increases for the NIH?  The answers to these questions is crucial as the nation prepares to go to the voting booth in November.

How can you get involved? Here a couple ways:

1) Visit www.askyourcandidates.org and complete an online form that will assist you in sending a message to your candidates to find out how they view the future of medical progress. It’s easy and only takes a few minutes.

2) Keep an eye out on your candidates' websites, newsletters and social media pages for information about town hall meetings they are hosting in your community! If you decide to attend, go ahead and ask a question of about research. We have provided some sample questions for you to customize.

  • As a stroke survivor, I am very concerned that the National Institutes of Health continues to invest a mere 1% of its budget in stroke research, despite promising research opportunities.  What will you do to secure an increase in funding for stroke, the No. 4 killer and a major cause of permanent disability in the United States?
  • As a heart disease survivor, I am very concerned that the National Institutes of Health continues to invest only 4% of its budget in heart research, despite promising research opportunities.  What will you do to secure an increase in NIH funding for heart disease, the No. 1 killer and a major cause of disability in the United States?
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) invests in every state and in 90% of congressional districts, including our own.  In addition to saving lives, NIH is an economic driver, supporting high paying jobs, spurring innovation, and maintaining our Nation’s position as the world leader in medical research.  But, over the last decade, NIH has lost 20% of its purchasing power at a time of heightened scientific opportunity and when other countries are increasing their investment in research—some by double digits. What will you do to reverse this trend?

Medical research done at the NIH is crucial for the future of our country’s health and economy. Let’s see where our candidates stand on this important issue before heading to the polls in November!

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What's for Lunch?

You've probably seen our action alerts and Facebook posts over the last month about the all-out food fight in Congress over school meals.  What’s at stake are the new nutrition standards established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which have added more whole grains, fruits and vegetables to school meals, while cutting excess sodium and unhealthy fats.  Some member of Congress say these standards are too burdensome, while others (and more than 200 groups, including the American Heart Association) believe that kids’ health is an investment worth making.  Here’s a quick recap of what’s happened and what’s to come as we work to protect the progress being made to improve the quality of school food for kids: 

Action in the House of Representatives and Senate:  Both chambers of Congress are working to pass an agriculture funding bill.  The biggest difference between the two bills, which have passed their respective committees, is that the House bill would grant waivers that would turn-back the clock and allow schools to serve lunches that don’t meet the latest nutrition standards.  As our CEO Nancy Brown said, “We cannot go back to the days when the answer to ‘What’s for lunch?’ was pizza, French fries and chicken nuggets.”

While some schools have experienced growing pains to implement some of these changes, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that over 90% of schools are in compliance.  The AHA strongly feels that Congress needs to let the USDA do its job of providing technical assistance to struggling schools, rather than giving schools a pass.

What’s Next: The full House and Senate are scheduled to vote on their respective funding bills before the end of the month.  We expect some amendments to be offered (both good and bad).  Then, the two chambers will have to “conference” their bills to reach an agreement on a final agriculture appropriations bill.  Given the differences between the two bills, we expect the conference negotiations to be a tough fight in war to keep school nutrition standards strong for all kids in all schools. 

“How can I help?”: I’m glad you asked!  Members of Congress need to keep hearing from health advocates that healthy school meals matter.  Please make a quick call to your Members of Congress’ office today to tell them you support the progress being made.  Below are some simple talking points you can use.

1)      Hi! My name is ____________ and I’m a constituent from [CITY]. 

2)      I’m concerned to hear about the current efforts in Congress to weaken school nutrition standards that are helping to improve food quality and reinforce healthy eating habits with kids. 

3)      Can I count on the Senator ________________/Representative _______________ to support keeping schools on track to meet strong nutrition standards? 

***Need help finding the contact information for your U.S. Senators and Representative?  Click here!  

And don’t forget to report back... let us know which offices you called by sending a quick email to advocacydc@heart.org.


Want more school nutrition facts?  Check out this great infographic from the USDA.  



 

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Advocates Take Stroke Message to Washington

You’re the Cure stroke survivors and caregivers took their message that stroke is preventable, beatable and treatable from the White House to the halls of Congress during American Stroke Month in May! After touring the East Wing of the White House, advocates attended a Congressional briefing and visited legislative offices in Washington, D.C.. Their mission was to explain the financial costs that can accompany the long road to recovery after a stroke and also urge Congress to support for a tax credit that would help families offset the burden.

Studies have shown that family caregivers provide approximately $6.1 billion annually in care to stroke survivors, which can exact physical, emotional and financial tolls. Meanwhile, the annual costs associated with stroke are $36.5 billion, according to information provided to elected officials and their staff by Brendan Conroy, M.D., medical director of the Stroke Recovery Program and chief medical information officer at Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital.

Seventy percent of people return home after a stroke and often need a family member of friend to care for them with a third of the caregivers spending more than 21 hours a week providing care. Yet, family members often can’t afford not to work.

“Caregivers must think carefully about quitting their jobs – the effects could be devastating financially,” said Gail Gibson Hunt, president and chief executive of the National Alliance of Caregiving.

Hunt said seven of 10 caregivers have to change their work status, losing wages, pensions and Social Security.

You’re the Cure advocate Robin Williams, whose husband Van Williams had a stroke in January 2012, said home-based care costs much less than a nursing home. Even so, her family has paid a heavy toll.

“Without the love, care, and support of their family caregivers, many stroke survivors would not be able to live at home and would instead be forced to go to a nursing home for their recovery at a much higher cost to insurers and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. A tax credit that would help to offset some of the financial costs of caregiving that family’s experience would be a very helpful step in the right direction.”

The Williams cashed out savings and retirement plans, received loans from relatives and maxed out credit cards to get needed care. At one point, their monthly health insurance through COBRA cost $1,700. In the process, they also lost their home.

“It is safe to say that it is going to take a long time for our credit scores to recover,” Mrs. Williams said. She added that legislation “like the Return to Work Act that helps educate and encourage employers to make accommodations so that stroke survivors can go back to work also makes a great deal of sense.”

The Return to Work Act would assist survivors of stroke and other debilitating health occurrences in returning to work. The bill was assigned to a congressional committee in October, where it must be considered before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole.

“Van has made great achievements that I don’t even think he realizes, and he still has a lot to offer an employer.  He does everything asked of him to make his recovery a success, and I could not be prouder of him,” Mrs. Williams said.

The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association support the Return to Work Act. Other legislation the organization supports on behalf of stroke survivors and caregivers includes: the Americans Giving Care to Elders Act of 2013, which would create a 1,200 tax credit for caregiving expenses on behalf of elderly relatives; and the Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Services Act, which would permanently repeal Medicare caps on outpatient therapy.

              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the You're the Cure Facebook page to see photos of the event!

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Proposed Tobacco Rule a Good First Step...

...but stronger regulation is needed to keep e-cigarettes, flavored little cigars and other tobacco products out of the hands of young people, according to American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown. You can read her full statement here.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on April 24th released a proposed rule to regulate e-cigarettes, little cigars and other tobacco products. The rule would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, require health warnings and require manufacturers to disclose product ingredients, among other requirements. You can read more about the proposed rule on the AHA blog

While acknowledging the long-awaited rule is a strong first step, Brown said " Our nation’s youth must be given a fighting chance to turn away from tobacco and nicotine addiction once and for all. In order to achieve that goal, the FDA must go beyond the regulations proposed today and stop the advertising, restrict the flavorings – including flavored cigars, which have replaced banned flavored cigarettes as a gateway for youth – and control the Internet sales, which can often be used to circumvent youth access restrictions."

The public will have until July 9th to provide comments on the proposed rule before it undergoes final changes by the agency. The American Heart Association is preparing detailed comments on how the regulations could be strengthened to protect the cardiovascular health of Americans. You're the Cure advocates- be on the lookout for an opportunity to submit your comments to the FDA soon.   

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Long Overdue: Nutrition Label Updates

In late February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its plans to update the ‘Nutrition Facts’ label we all have come to know on the food products we buy.  And now it’s time for you to weigh in! 

As consumers, we need to tell the FDA that we support changes that will make it easier to compare products and make healthier choices.  The agency is accepting public comments between now and August 1st- and we’ve made it easy for you to add your voice!  Just click here to send a quick letter to FDA Commissioner Hamburg. 

The FDA’s proposes that food labels be revised to:

  • Emphasize the number of calories a food or beverage contains.  The larger, bolder font should draw attention to the calorie content and encourage consumers to consider this information when selecting a product or deciding how much to eat. 
  • Require food manufacturers to list the amount of added sugars.  Added sugars are a significant source of excess calories and generally have no or little nutritional value.

And as heart-health advocates, we need to tell the FDA what’s missing from their proposal:

  • The Daily Value for sodium was only reduced by 100mg (from 2,400 mg to 2,300 mg), which is simply not enough.  Eating too much sodium has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.  The FDA should lower the Daily Value to 1,500mg per day to encourage food manufacturers to lower the sodium content of their foods and to help Americans decrease the amount of sodium they eat.
  • The FDA should launch a consumer education campaign to help people understand the changes that will occur and make the best use of the Nutrition Facts label.

 With your help, we’ll see these common-sense changes on our store shelves in the near future.  Take action with us to ensure the FDA gets a strong message from consumers that we want clear and easy-to-understand nutrition information for the foods we eat! 

  

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Calling All You're the Cure Superheroes!

Calling all You’re the Cure SUPERHEORES! (Yes, that means YOU!)

Forget Captain America and Wonder Woman.  When it comes to fighting heart disease and stroke, You’re the Cure advocates are the superheroes we’ll choose to have on our side every time!  That’s because no super powers or special gadgets can ever amount to the power of thousands of dedicated people who give their time and share their stories to bring about positive change.    

Wondering if the contacts you make to our nation’s lawmakers really qualify you for superhero status?  Just think about this... Everyday, heart & stroke patients are benefiting from life-saving research you supported.  Everyday, students are eating healthier meals in schools because of you.  Everyday, people have access to AEDs in more public places because you pushed for change.  And everyday, our neighbors are breathing smoke-free air because you cared enough to speak-up.  Because of you, we are saving lives and helping more Americans live healthier- and in our book, that makes you a superhero! 

Later this month is National Superhero Day (April 28th) and rather than celebrate fictional characters from comic books and action movies, we want to celebrate YOU!  So, we’re asking ALL of our You’re the Cure advocates to share a picture, showing us your best superhero pose.  Or you can share a picture of the special heart or stroke superhero in your life who inspires you to be an advocate. 

It’s easy to join in the fun!  Just snap a picture of yourself giving us your best superhero pose (bonus points for creativity!) and share the picture on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter using the hashtag #ytcHero.  Throughout the month, we’ll share some of great pictures on our social media accounts to showcase our powerful You’re the Cure community.     

We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

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7 Million Enrolled: An Affordable Care Act Update

Accessible, affordable health care is critical to preventing and treating heart disease and stroke.  That makes the progress made during this first 6-month open enrollment period of the Health Insurance Marketplace something to recognize.      

When open enrollment closed on March 31st, 7.5 million Americans had enrolled in a health care plan according to the Department of Health and Human Services.  In addition, millions of Americans were able to gain coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Medicaid expansion that took place in 26 states and the District of Columbia.

Even with open-enrollment closed, there are still some lingering questions consumers may have and we’re here to help:

What if I tried to enroll by March 31, but didn’t finish in time?

If you tried to enroll in health coverage through the Marketplace by March 31 but didn’t finish on time, you may still be able to get 2014 coverage- but you need to act quickly.  You must finish your enrollment by April 15 to get coverage for 2014. If you enroll by April 15, your coverage will begin May 1.  Learn more here.

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When is the next open enrollment period? 

It’s not too early to think about your next opportunity to gain or alter your coverage. The next enrollment period will begin on November 15th, 2014 and end on February 15th, 2015.  You can sign-up for email updates at www.healthcare.gov.  This will, once again, be a critical time to help educate the millions of Americans who remain uninsured about their health care options and help them enroll in a plan that meets their needs and budget. 

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Are there any exceptions to the open enrollment period deadlines? 

There are ‘qualifying life events’ that enable you to buy coverage outside of the standard enrollment period, such as:

  • Having a baby or adopting, or
  • Getting married or divorced, or
  • Moving to a new state, or
  • Losing your employer based coverage.

Additionally, those who qualify can apply for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid at any point in the year.  There is no open enrollment period for these programs.  Also, if you own or operate a small business, you can begin offering coverage to your employees at any time.   

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