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The Obesity Rate in Washington is Leveling Off

Guest Blogger: Grace Henscheid, Grassroots Advocacy Director

In early September the State of Obesity Report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust of America’s Health was released and it is clear there is still much work to be done in our fight against obesity.

While there are many statistics in the report, one of the numbers that stood out to us was that the obesity rate in Washington seems to have leveled off. While we would have preferred to see it go down we are happy to see that at least it is not still going up.  In 2013, Washington ranked 32nd with an adult obesity rate of 27.2%.

In order to lower this number we need to build communities that encourage healthy eating and active lifestyles. One of the programs the American Heart Association offers for free to people that are trying to improve their health is the “Life’s Simple 7” program. This program helps participants to manage heart risk by understanding the importance of getting active, controlling cholesterol, eating better, managing blood pressure, losing weight, reducing blood sugar and stopping smoking.

In addition to this program we are working to build healthier communities by passing state and local legislation. In the 2015 legislative session we will appeal to the state budget writers to increase funding for Safe Routes to School, a program that funds projects that help make communities in our state more walkable. Currently for every three requests the state receives they can fund only one project. We believe that by building communities that are conducive and encouraging of physical activity the health of everyone who lives there will be improved.

While the news about Washington’s obesity rate is encouraging we now need to take the next step and work to decrease the obesity rate. With help from advocates like you we believe it is a battle we can win.

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Trick or Treat?

Candy Corn, Gummy Bears, Peanut Butter Cups, Swedish Fish, Candy Bar, Bubblegum and Cotton Candy… These may sound like treats the neighborhood kids are hoping to pick up when they go trick-or-treating later this month, but they’re actually the tricks used by companies to hook our kids on nicotine. These are flavors of e-cigarette liquid available for purchase today.

With alluring flavors like those and a dramatic increase in youth exposure to e-cigarette advertising, the rising popularity of e-cigarettes among youth shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, it raises concerns. Strong regulations are needed to keep these tobacco products out of the hands of children. We’ve asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and we’re still waiting for them to act.

Meanwhile, CDC launched this week their #20Million Memorial. 20 million people have died from smoking-related illnesses since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health. Has smoking affected you and your family? Check out this moving online memorial, then share your story or honor loved ones lost too soon with the hashtag #20Million.  

AHA staff and volunteers across the country are preparing to fight the tobacco epidemic in upcoming state legislative sessions. They’ll ask for state funding for tobacco prevention programs and for increased tobacco taxes, a proven deterrent for youth smoking.

This Halloween, don’t let our kids continue to get tricked by the tobacco companies. Help end the tobacco epidemic for good. To amplify our message with lawmakers, ask friends and family members to join us, then watch your inbox for opportunities to act!  

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Vance Lobe - What the Affordable Care Act means for me

Vance Lobe

It’s been almost one year now since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges were implemented and I thought it was time to reflect on how this has affected my life. 

I am a two time heart attack survivor, starting with the first one about five and a half years ago.  I was gainfully employed at the time and had, what I thought, was good insurance through my employer.  I only learned after the attack that it wasn’t as good as I thought, as a lot of things slipped through the cracks.

I lost my job through layoffs just prior to the second attack and was fortunate to at least have the COBRA insurance, even though, it caused serious financial hardship, as I was unemployed and had a large financial obligations for this care. 

For a year and a half I was unemployed without any healthcare insurance, as I was “uninsurable” due to my pre-existing heart condition.

During this time, every time I felt a little pain or just not feeling right, I would think about what would happen to me if I had another heart attack without any insurance.  I couldn’t  even afford "well care" as I was still unemployed and I made too much on unemployment to take advantage of any subsidies for any of the medicines that I needed or any other assistance.

That all changed this past January when I was finally able to get insurance through ACA.  I am able to receive “well care” for almost nothing, receive my life prolonging medicines for free and I no longer stress about my health as I know the insurance will cover the balance of my care in case something else happens.  While I am once again employed, I have chosen to continue to stay in the program, as it’s a good plan for me.

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Caroline Reis - Intern Highlight

Caroline Reis

My Name is Caroline Reis and I have had a busy and fun filled internship this summer at the American Heart Association. Another intern, Ricki Cullum, and myself have worked on several community health and development projects, attended education and outreach events and learn how a national health organization directs its efforts towards improving the health and well being of Washington residents.

As a soon to be senior at the University of Washington I am eager to take my Bachelors in Public Health and apply it to preventative health approaches to better the lives of Americans while contributing to a sustainable culture of health. (Ricki is graduating from Western Washington University with a Bachelors in Community Health and is passionate about combatting chronic diseases and promoting disease prevention.)

Over the past two months we have been working to integrate the new Life is Why brand into our outreach events to get individuals thinking about what it is that makes them happy, gets them through the day and motivates them to live a healthy life free of heart disease and stroke. At first people were caught off guard when prompted to think about their “why,” but when 4 year old Ben confidently said “my DOG is why!” it became less daunting and more inspiring.

What is my why? When I was 12 years old, my father had a coronary stent put in his heart. I had no idea what it meant for my family and my father’s livelihood, but I knew that I wanted others to live a life free of hardships brought on by heart disease and poor health.

Above all else, this summer has given Ricki and I the opportunity to connect with people on an individual level while putting into motion broader ideas about why healthy choices, outlooks and actions provide the most powerful motivation for improving the health of our community, nation and world.

Take five minutes today to think about your why. Write it on a sticky note and keep it in a place you see everyday. Is it your Family? Friends? Being outdoors? Photography? Laughter? To help others?  Take part in the enjoyment Ricki and I have found when putting to action Life is Why in your community!

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An update on our efforts to support safe and healthy communities in Washington

We’re proud to partner with Washington’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition and other great allies in an effort to support safe and healthy communities.

Guest blogger: Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition  

On August 25, the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition ( released results of a statewide telephone poll showing that 84 percent of Washington State voters believe that funding to keep children safe from traffic and physically active should be a part of transportation spending in the state.

Funding for the survey was made possible through a grant from Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association, empowering advocates to take action in their communities and improve health of children across the nation. (

The 506 interviews completed statewide between May 28 and June 2, 2014, captured opinions about children walking and biking to school in general, as well as Safe Routes to School projects currently funded by the state.

For more information on the poll results, please see:

COPC has been a longtime supporter of expanding walking and biking routes for children and families – communities that walk and bike more are healthier communities.

For more information on Safe Routes to School projects, funding and success stories in Washington state, visit:

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It's fall and that means it's Heart & Stroke Walk season!

Labor Day has come and gone and the kids are back in school. Both of these are signs that fall is just around the corner but there is another sign of fall in Washington and that is the American Heart Association Heart & Stroke Walks.

Washington has three Heart & Stroke Walks so we hope you are able to join us at one near you.

Spokane Heart & Stroke Walk/5K – September 13th at Riverside Clock Tower

South Sound Heart & Stroke Walk – October 4th at Cheney Stadium

Puget Sound Heart & Stroke Walk – October 11th at the Seattle Center

The Heart & Stroke Walk celebrates those who have made lifestyle changes and encourages many more to take the pledge to live healthier lifestyles while raising the dollars needed to fund life-saving research and initiatives.

In 2011 12,996 people in Washington died from heart disease and stroke. We, the American Heart Association, want to lower that number and that is why we work to raise awareness and money for research. This event is free but donations are always welcome.

Be sure to stop by the advocacy booth and sign a postcard in support of funding the Safe Routes to School program in our state.

We hope to see you at the Heart & Stroke Walk!

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Spencer's Story - looks can be deceiving

Written by Amy Norton, Spencer's mom

You NEVER think “it will happen to you” but… “it” happened to my family, my son. At only ten weeks old my son was fighting for his life. This is his story…

Spencer was born at home, on 11/08/13, with a team of experienced midwives. He was a healthy 9.1lbs., and appeared completely typical. He was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Except he had a secret, Congenital Heart Disease. He kept this secret for a long time. Almost too long.

At 24 hours postpartum, our midwives came back to our house to check on Spencer. Again, everything appeared typical, no physical signs of distress. Therefore, no oximeter was ever placed on him.

On day 7 Spencer was seen by our family doctor. Again, he appeared typical. He was back to his birth weight. Latching on and eating well. His body was doing an amazing job at compensating for his lack of oxygen. Too good of a job. No one ever thought it medically necessary to check a “healthy” boy’s oxygen level. So, he continued to hold on to his secret.

December 21st, Spencer caught his first cold along with my husband, daughter and myself. We got better after a few days. Spencer stayed sick, in fact, he was getting sicker. Worry set in.

I took Spencer back to the doctor.  He was now 8 weeks old. At this appointment I expressed my concern about his cold. I emphasized that something didn’t seem right. I asked, “could it be allergies or asthma?” I didn’t know to ask if it could be heart disease, I wish I did. Spencer had only gained 6 ounces over his birth weight. STILL no oximeter was placed on him. I was advised to come back in two weeks. However, Spencer didn’t made it two weeks.

My husband and I had had enough. Spencer was still sick, his skin started to look dusky and we knew something was wrong. We called the local children’s hospital and spoke with a consulting nurse. She immediately said to call 9-1-1. The medics arrived. This was the first time an oximeter was placed on my son!  He was now 10 weeks old.

Trauma began. Things progressed from a phone call to an airlift in a matter of hours. Before we knew it, we were standing over our happy baby in an induced coma at Seattle Children’s Hospital. This is where, literally, at the eleventh hour, we learned of Spencer’s secret. Our sweet boy was born with Congenital Heart Disease.

Things quickly went from bad to worse! ONE day after getting our son to the hospital he was placed on life support. He remained in the hospital for 6 weeks. Fighting for his life.

If an oximeter was placed on Spencer at 24 hours old, he never would have got as close to death as he was. Yes, he still would have had heart disease. Yes, he still would have needed open heart surgery. But he never would have suffered the way he did. If my husband and I were not advocates for our son I am afraid his outcome would have been different. An unbearable reality.

An oximeter test is so simple. It saves babies lives! As a mother who has lived through the unbearable, I ask, why is it not a statewide requirement that every child not tested? No matter where a baby is born in Washington, it should be protected from a tragic story like Spencer’s. Spencer is a miracle. We are blessed he survived. NO baby should suffer like him, not when it is so simple to detect.

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What is your why?

Guest blogger: Lindsay Hovind, Washington Government Relations Director

LIFE is why. The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association just launched its new positioning focused on an emotional brand message and a concise answer to the question of why we do what we do: We believe everyone deserves to live a healthier, longer life. Why? Life. Life is why.

Each of us has our own “why” for why we work to help the American Heart Association achieve its goals. For one survivor, it’s the chance to see her daughter on her wedding day. For one of my colleagues it’s the chance to live a life full of travel and adventure. For me…healthier communities is why…seeing every family in every community have safe places to exercise and play, and access to healthy, delicious food. We each have our own “why” that moves us to contribute time and energy to AHA’s mission – some through advocacy, some through medical research, some through sharing stories of triumph or loss.

What’s your “why?” We’re lucky to live in a wonderful state like Washington and each of you is helping our neighbors to live healthier lives. Why do you do it? We’d love to hear from you. Email us your “why.”

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Mark Your Calendar for the EmpowerMEnt Challenge!

We’re gearing up for National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and we want you to be in on all of the action!  Throughout September, we’re encouraging families across the country to take control of their healthy by participating in the EmpowerMEnt Challenge.  Each week, families and kids will pursue a different goal, including eating more fruits and veggies, limiting sugary drinks, reducing sodium intake, and increasing physical activity.  Each goal is fun, simple, won’t break the bank and can be done as a family.  And by the end of the month, families will be a step ahead on the road to a heart-healthy life. 

So mark your calendar for the challenge kick-off on September 1st!  Complimentary templates and activities, broken down into the themed weeks, are now available on  In addition, you're invited to join our EmpowerMEnt Challenge Facebook group, where you can make the commitment to take the challenge and share your progress with others.  

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Christian's Story

Written by Aimee Lybbert, Christian's mom

When our son Christian was born he appeared perfectly healthy. He passed all the standard newborn screening with flying colors. Every medical professional assured us he was fine. But in reality our son had a broken heart.

Our first thought after learning about Christian's heart defect two weeks after his birth was, why didn't the ultrasound show us that he had major congenital heart defects? We later learned that up to 25% of major heart defects are not detected during ultrasounds. 

We also later learned that although our hospital did a pulse oximetry test just after birth, they did not do another test when Christian was 24 hours old. It was not a hospital requirement.  When we asked our local hospital why the test wasn't done we were told that the cost of false positives were too high and they didn't want to scare parents and do unnecessary testing.  Congenital heart defects are the single most common birth defect.

Screening for Critical Congenital Heart Defects or pulse ox testing can detect seven different critical congenital defects.  Our son Christian has three of the seven critical congenital heart defects that it can detect. 

Today Christian is 16 months old. He's had two open chest heart surgeries and he will need at least two more. He will never be completely fixed or healed but with the help of his diligent medical specialists, he is thriving despite it all.  If he had received that second pulse ox test at 24 hours Christian would not have gone into full heart failure before his heart defects were detected. He would not have had to go into his first heart surgery with a weakened heart and an overtaxed body. 

I was honored to provide written testimony to the Washington State Board of Health in support of requiring pulse oximetry testing for all newborns, so that other families don’t have to experience what we went through. We're lucky that Christian made it, but not all Washington babies are as lucky.

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