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Is childhood obesity a problem in Rhode Island?

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and, according to the annual report The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, we still have some work to do in Rhode Island!   

How does the Ocean State rank in The State of Obesity report?

  • 13.2% of 10- to- 17-year-olds are obese in Rhode Island
  • 10.7% of high school students are obese in our state  

Rhode Island has lower childhood obesity rates than many other states, but 13.2% and 10.7% are still far too high!  We have to make sure that all kids have access to healthy foods and safe places to play and be active – we need to create a culture of health in our state where the default choice is the healthy one.  

Rhode Island's success can serve as an example to the rest of the country - but we can't put ourselves on a pedestal while leaving 10% of our kids behind.

The American Heart Association is starting a petition asking the Governor-Elect to prioritize childhood obesity prevention in our state – click the following link to sign today:

The petition will be delivered after the General Election in November.   
To view The State of Obesity report visit:

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Karen Aspry, M.D., M.S., ABCL, FACC, Rhode Island

Karen Aspry, M.D., M.S., ABCL, FACC is the American Heart Association’s newest local Rhode Island Board of Directors member. Dr. Aspry’s education, training and clinical activities have been focused on preventive aspects of cardiovascular disease, especially in the area of diagnosis and management of cholesterol disorders. Needless to say, her joining of the board during Cholesterol Awareness Month is well timed! Dr. Aspry received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in human nutrition from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of California at Berkeley.

In medical school at an institution with an NIH Preventive Cardiology Academic Award, she helped design one of the first preventive cardiology electives for 4th year medical students, and authored research highlighting gaps in lipid treatment among peripheral vascular patients. In residency and fellowship she pursued research investigating the accuracy of exercise testing in women, and the effects of exogenous estrogens on platelet reactivity and vascular function. After fellowship, Dr. Aspry joined Kaiser Permanente in Northern California as an invasive cardiologist, where she became 1 of 10 physician champions for Kaiser’s regional cholesterol management program, Multi-Fit cardiac rehabilitation program, and PHASE (“Prevent Heart Attacks and Strokes Everyday”) population management initiative. In 2005-06, she joined Memorial Hospital of RI where she established a Cardiovascular Risk Reduction Clinic and patient outreach program. Currently she is the Director of the Lipid and Prevention program, and Associate Director of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, for the Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute, and a clinical faculty member of the Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Dr. Aspry is board certified in cardiovascular medicine and clinical lipidology, and has an active practice treating lipoprotein disorders and cardiovascular risk. She is actively involved in the National Lipid Association as Co-Chair of the Practice Development Committee and board member for the Northeast Chapter, and is a member of the ACC’s new Prevention Section.  She lectures regularly on topics related to clinical lipidology and cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention, is involved in community outreach activities aligned with the mission of the AHA, and engages in clinical research related to population management of lipid disorders.  Her favorite motto is: “A clinician is only as good as the system he or she practices in.”  Dr. Aspry is honored to join the American Heart Association’s local board members in their efforts to close gaps in awareness, detection and treatment of cardiovascular risk within healthcare systems and at the population level.

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Rhode Island Advocate Leads Congressional Visits During August Recess

On August 29, Rhode Island advocate, grandmother and Pawtucket Wellness Committee member Miriam Plitt dropped by the offices of Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse to talk about a very important issue – school nutrition.  The visits were part of a national campaign where advocates from across the country made special deliveries to their congressional offices in support of healthy school meals and snacks.  Advocates delivered a brown lunch bag that contained 5 puzzle pieces (see picture below) – 4 pieces fit together to display a healthy lunch, while 1 piece representing junk food did not fit.  The message on the bag read, “We’re puzzled!  Healthy school meals fit perfectly into a successful school day for every child.  Yet, efforts in Congress to weaken or delay strong nutrition standards threaten the progress being made to improve the quality of school meals and snacks.  Do your part to give kids a head start on a healthy heart.  Protect the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.”

We know that nutritious school foods are essential to heart health, teaching life-long healthy habits and helping children perform better academically. We are very lucky that Rhode Island has been a leader in school nutrition – and the RI Congressional Delegation and the RI General Assembly have been very supportive.  Let’s keep Rhode Island – and the country – moving forward!  Our kids deserve nothing less…

For more information on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act click the following link:

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Rhode Island to Require Pulse Ox Screening for Newborns

Good news for Rhode Island's tiniest hearts!  The RI Department of Health recently finalized a regulation that adds critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) to the mandatory newborn screening panel in the Ocean State.  The new requirement will take effect on July 1, 2015.  Implementation is well underway – all birthing hospitals in RI have adopted pulse oximetry screening for CCHD as the standard of care.   

The Department of Health has been working with Rhode Island’s birthing hospitals over the past two years on this vital initiative.  We greatly appreciate the leadership of the Department and the many physicians, nurses and medical professionals who helped lay a strong foundation for this policy change.  

Special thanks to the many You’re the Cure advocates who supported this campaign – especially our Little Heart Heroes and families from Mended Little Hearts of Rhode Island!

Click the following link to thank Governor Chafee and Department of Health Director Dr. Michael Fine for expediting this important regulation: 

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RI’s Tobacco Settlement Refinance is Now Toxic Debt

Very interesting piece from GOLOCALProv News. ZERO dollars devoted to tobacco cessation & prevention, and now RI faces $2.8 billion in debt on capital appreciation tobacco bonds due in 2052. Tobacco Free RI weighs in on the latest development in this shameful saga…





RI’s Tobacco Settlement Refinance is Now Toxic Debt

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kate Nagle, GoLocal Contributor

Rhode Island's effort to balance the state budget in 2002 and 2007 from tobacco settlement money may be blowing up into toxic debt to the state.

In a report issued by ProPublica -- "How Wall Street Tobacco Deals Left States With Billions in Toxic Debt" -- Rhode Island is now facing $2.8 billion in debt on capital appreciation tobacco bonds due in 2052, a revelation that comes nearly sixteen years following the landmark United States tobacco settlement intended to combat the adverse impacts of smoking.

Rhode Island recently announced a plan to buy out some holders of $197 million of the capital appreciation bonds (CABs) it sold in 2007, which would take $700 million off the $2.8 billion and allow for the refinancing of older tobacco bonds, but Oppenheimer is suing to stop the deal, as reported in Bloomberg and multiple news outlets on August 5.

Moreover, of the $51 million in settlement money Rhode Island received in 2014 (100% of which is pledged to repay the bonds), the state spent less than 1% of that amount on smoking prevention programs, according to the same ProPublica report.

"We're investing just $388,000 in the state smoking prevention program in 2014.  The CDC recommended we spend $15 million," said Karina Holyoak Wood, Director of Tobacco Free Rhode Island.  "Smoking costs Rhode Island close to $870 million in economic costs each year, and every year 1,600 Rhode islanders die from tobacco use, and thousands more suffer expensive and debilitating illnesses."

"We had that money," Holyoak Wood of the landmark tobacco settlement. "I would say it's shameful that the General Assembly and the Governors back then plugged deficits as one time fixes -- now there are even greater consequences than we realized."

Margaret Kane, who was with the Rhode Island chapter of the American Lung Association at the time of the settlement and opposed the state tobacco bonds, and is now with Operation Clean Government, said she was shocked at the level of the state's refinanced debt.

"I would have though of something like that could happen, but not to this extent," said Kane. "Holy crap."

States' New Realities

Cezary Podkul, author of Pro-Publica's state-by-state report, shows that a number of other states find themselves in the same predicament as Rhode Island, having utilized capital appreciation bonds -- "high-risk debt that squeezed out a few extra dollars for the governments but promised massive balloon payments, some in the billions, down the road."

"They amount to only a $3 billion sliver of the approximately $36 billion in tobacco bonds outstanding, according to a review of bond documents and Thomson Reuters data. But the nine states, three territories, District of Columbia and several counties that issued them have promised a whopping $64 billion to pay them off," writes Podkul.

"Just as mortgage lenders bet that home prices would keep rising, the tobacco deals relied on optimistic predictions of how much Americans would smoke," Podkul continued.  "Forecasters rightly saw that cigarette sales would continue to decline, but now the yearly drop — about 3 to 3.5 percent — is nearly double what was cooked into the deals."

URI Distinguished Professor of Business Edward Mazze offered a historical perspective of how Rhode Island came to this juncture.

"Rhode Island took its share of the tobacco settlement upfront in cash to balance the state's budget. Capital Appreciation Bonds (also known as tobacco bonds in this situation) were then issued by the state to private investors so that taxpayers would not be affected if and when tobacco money fell short in the future because of a decline in cigarette sales. Investors were promised huge payouts. This is a high-risk debt with a large balloon payment in the future to be repaid with settlement dollars and not tax dollars," said Mazze.  "These bonds are difficult and costly to sell.  One out of every three dollars coming in under the settlement goes to investors. Rhode Island recently presented a plan, which will not happen because of a lawsuit, to buy out some bond holders and refinance older tobacco bonds at better interest rates."

Mazze continued, "Even though most of the payments are not due for many years into the future, if past history is an indication of the future, Rhode Island will have a difficult time filling the gap between what it expects to continue to collect under the settlement and what it owes investors. What ever is collected in the future will have to be used to pay off the bonds. This means less tobacco funds available to support other government programs in the budget. This has a significant impact on balancing future state budgets. An example of poor governmental leadership when it comes to fiscal matters - spend now and don't worry about tomorrow."

Rhode Island's Failing Grade

In January, Rhode Island received an "F" from the American Lung Association in its "State of Tobacco Control 2014" report card.

"The good news is that Rhode Island earned an “A” grade for our smoke free air and our high cigarette tax, which prevents youth smoking and motivates adults to quit," said Holyoak Wood. "The bad news is that Rhode Island earned an “F” for being one of the bottom ten states in the country for tobacco control and prevention spending."

"When tobacco companies agreed to turn over this money to compensate the victims who were mislead about the deadly effects of smoking, that's what the states should have spent the money on," said Holyoak Wood.  "Now we're living with the legacy today of leaders who didn't use that money to help people with their battles against lung cancer, or provide cheaper coverage -- we were meant to put that money into prevention, which is the best strategy.

"It's broken promises -- that's how I see it as well.  Broken promises of political leaders to the people.  This money was so hard fought, it was such an enormous victory -- the biggest settlement ever from corporations to the people of the country, it was a wonderful thing that the states' Attorney Generals managed to win.  And Wall Street came along and made them great offers, and look what's happened."

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The American Heart Association recently launched its new brand “Life is Why.”  We want people to experience more of life's precious moments. It's why we've made better heart and brain health our mission. And until there's a world free of heart disease and stroke, we'll be there, working to make a healthier, longer life possible for everyone. Why do we do what we do? Life is why.

What is your “why?”  Tell us why you advocate for heart health and stroke care and your story could become our “Advocate Spotlight” in an upcoming issue of the Rhode Island Beats newsletter.  Simply email your story along with a photo to Megan Tucker at

Need inspiration?  Check out

Our success at the American Heart Association would not be possible without the passion, dedication and commitment of advocates like YOU!  Thank you for all that you do!

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Rhode Island Has Second Lowest Youth Smoking Rate in the Nation

The Rhode Island Department of Health recently announced that the Ocean State has the SECOND LOWEST youth smoking rate in the nation.  The finding is based on national survey data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The results show that Rhode Island’s youth smoking rate dropped from 11% in 2011 to 8% currently (second only to the state of Utah). 

This good news is in large part due to the strong tobacco control laws that Rhode Island has on the books – laws that we fought for!  These proven policies include our comprehensive smoke-free air law and high cigarette tax.  But our work is not over – an 8% youth smoking rate is still too high and we won’t stop until that number is zero!   

Click here to view the Department of Health’s press release:

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Is Your Community HeartSafe?

The Rhode Island HeartSafe Community Program is a collaborative effort between the Department of Health’s Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention Program and the American Heart Association. This initiative is based on the principle that lives can be saved by being prepared with early access to care, early CPR, early defibrillation, and early advanced care. The goals of the RI HeartSafe Community Program are to:



  • Increase the number of community members trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR);
  • Increase the number of first responders equipped with automated external defibrillators (AEDs); and
  • Ensure appropriate pre-arrival instructions and optimize the prehospital care system.

The following towns have been designated as Rhode Island HeartSafe Communities and received program signs and decals to proudly display in their communities:

  • Narraganset: August 2014
  • Portsmouth: February 2014
  • Cumberland: December 2013
  • Barrington: September 2013
  • Coventry: April 2013
  • East Providence: April 2012
  • South Kingstown: October 2010
  • Warwick: January 2010
  • Westerly: January 2010, renewed April 2013

Is your city/town on the list? If not, start a conversation in your community and urge your city/town leaders to become HeartSafe! For more information, visit the Department of Health’s website:

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Mended Little Hearts of Rhode Island

The American Heart Association is proud to collaborate with Mended Little Hearts of Rhode Island to raise awareness of congenital heart defects.  We are truly blessed to work with this amazing group of families and little heart heroes! 

Mended Little Hearts provides hope and support to children, families, and caregivers impacted by congenital heart defects in order to extend and improve quality of life.  Here’s just a few ways that Mended Little Hearts is making tremendous impact across the Ocean State:


  • In February 2014, the American Heart Association and Mended Little Hearts families met with Governor Chafee to raise awareness of congenital heart disease and to discuss the importance of screening all Rhode Island newborns for critical congenital heart defects using a simple, non-invasive and inexpensive pulse oximetry test.

  • In June 2014, Mended Little Hearts came out in force to support the Southern New England Heart Walk along with 9 other teams focused on congenital heart disease.  Together, the groups raised more than $18,000 for pediatric cardiovascular research!

  • Also in June 2014, Mended Little Hearts submitted comments on the RI Department of Health’s proposed regulation that would add critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) to the state’s mandatory newborn screening panel.  Click here to view the comments: (Please visit the site to view this file)

  • And, Mended Little Hearts will host many social and educational events throughout the year for children with CHD and their families.

For more information on Mended Little Hearts of Rhode Island, contact or visit   



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Pulse Ox Screening for Newborns: RI Department of Health Releases Proposed Regulation

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association, little heart heroes in red superhero capes, and families from Mended Little Hearts met with Governor Chafee to discuss the importance of screening all Rhode Island newborns for critical congenital heart defects using a simple, non-invasive and inexpensive pulse oximetry test.  We are excited to announce that the Department of Health recently released a draft regulation that would add critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) to the mandatory newborn screening panel in the Ocean State.

The Department of Health has been working with Rhode Island’s birthing hospitals over the past two years to implement pulse oximetry screening for CCHD.  We greatly appreciate the leadership of the Department and the many physicians, nurses and medical professionals who helped lay a strong foundation for this policy change. 

Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect in the U.S. and the leading killer of infants with birth defects.  The evidence speaks for itself – wider use of pulse ox screening could help identify more than 90 percent of heart defects.  

To view the American Heart Association’s comments on the proposed regulation click here: (Please visit the site to view this file)

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