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The School Day Just Got Healthier

It’s that time of year again!  Kids across the country are heading back to the classroom and we want to help ensure their minds and bodies are fueled with nutritious foods to support a successful education.

Fortunately, the health of today’s school environment continues to improve.  Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, cafeterias began offering school meals that meet updated nutrition standards last year.  School lunches and breakfasts now include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains- and less sodium and unhealthy fats- and kids are adapting to the changes.  According to a recent study, 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.

Now, it’s time for snacks sold in schools to get a healthy make-over too.  The ‘Smart Snacks in School’ standards took effect at the beginning of this school year, building on the progress made with school meals.  Foods and beverages sold in a la carte lines, snack bars, and vending machines, also known as ‘competitive foods’, must now meet strong nutrition standards as well.

For many schools, this is nothing new.  Thousands of schools had already found new ways of providing “smart snacks” for students – well in advance of updated federal lunch standards.  These schools serve as good examples that these changes can be made and embraced by students. 

So, how can you help make ‘Smart Snacks’ implementation successful for your child and your school district?  We know change is never easy.  Encouraging students to move away from sugary beverages and salty snacks will take some effort from schools and parents.  But it can be done and must be done for the health of today’s kids.  Join us!

1)      Do your homework- The United States Department of Agriculture has a host of resources to learn about the ‘Smart Snacks in School’ standards and the changes you can expect to see in your school district this year.  Take a look and help share them with fellow parents: 

2)      Get involved-

  • Ask your school administration about the changes that have been implemented in your district to improve nutrition.
  • Make time to join your child for lunch in the school cafeteria to see what is offered for meals and snacks.
  • When your child gets home from school, ask what was served and what (s)he ate for lunch.
  • Reinforce the healthier options your child has at school by serving healthier snacks and meals at home.
  • Be a role model. Let your child see you enjoying fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at meals and snacks.
  • Grocery shop together.  Talk about healthy choices and discuss where vegetables, fruits and grains, dairy and protein foods come from.

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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 www.heart.org/healthierkids.  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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Our new anthem: life is why

School behavioral specialist Carla Leonard had her hand on her heart during the Pledge of Allegiance when a heart attack nearly killed her. Her doctor didn’t mince words with her family afterward: “If I didn’t have surgery, they should pick out a dress for my funeral,” she said. “Plain and simple.”

But Leonard wanted to live — to see her daughter graduate from high school — so after surgery she started on a new path that continues today. She kicked her soda habit, started visiting her doctor regularly and got healthy enough to experience many important milestones in her life.

Leonard exemplifies the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s new brand tagline, “Life Is Why.” The phrase, which began appearing with the logo on Heart.org on Aug. 1, is much more than a slogan. It’s the singular idea that stands behind all the lifesaving work the AHA has carried out for 90  years – and it’s the very basic idea that people should be healthier so they can enjoy their lives more.

“The work we do matters,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said. “It has mattered to my family and I’m sure it has mattered to your family. Life is why.”

(Please visit the site to view this video)

Brown’s grandfather had a blockage of his carotid artery in the early 1970s. During surgery, he suffered a stroke, and his life was never the same — nor was his family’s. He died a few years later after another stroke. “I missed my grandfather then and I continue to miss him today,” Brown said.

But she pointed out that scientific research and treatment guidelines have led to much better outcomes for many others in the decades that followed. One of those survivors is Brown’s sister, who is thriving despite two recent strokes. She received treatment at one of the AHA’s primary stroke centers, helping her working through rehabilitation and regain her life.

“My sister is why, my grandfather is why — and all of you are why,” Brown told the organization’s volunteers and staff when announcing the adaptation of “Life Is Why” as a focal point of the AHA’s brand.

The American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke — the two leading causes of death in the world. The AHA fights these diseases through a wide variety of tactics, yet “Life Is Why” can be attached to every facet of the organization’s work.

Life is why the AHA helps people eat healthier foods and get more active — among the many activities the organization has to help people live healthier lives.

Life is why Roni Noone decided to lose weight so she could enjoy her life with her family.

Noone, a 38-year-old Baltimore mom who struggled with her weight in her teens and 20s, has lost a total of 70 pounds because she wants to be there for those special moments with her family. She has joined a gym and even run a marathon – saying she didn’t want to set a poor health example for her sons Ryan, 9, and Evan, 3.

Roni Noone is motivated by the special moments with her family.

“Last year I took Ryan whitewater rafting, and it was really emotional for me. Now I’m doing all the things I got healthy for,” said Noone, a fitness blogger who’s also writing a book. “I want to run a half-marathon with him when he’s 18. And I want to be able to do all these things that I’m doing in my 30s when I’m in my 50s.”

Life is why the American Heart Association has funded more than $3.6 billion in heart disease and stroke research, more than any other organization outside the federal government. Life is why the association works to develop treatment guidelines that help healthcare providers follow scientifically proven treatment standards.

Life is why the AHA is the nation’s leader in CPR training and science, and why the AHA has helped pass many laws and policies that have improved the public health. In fact, now that 17 states have passed laws requiring CPR as a high school graduation requirement, more than 1 million seniors will leave school every year with this lifesaving skill.

Leonard, 52, has gone on to be an AHA advocate for CPR in schools and screenings to detect heart defects in newborns. And she did get to see her daughter Yasmine finish high school, just one of many milestones she has experienced since her surgery eight years ago.

“The highlight of them all was when I heard that my child had used my life-and-death experience to write her entrance essay for college,” she said. “I want to be able to look back on my life and say that I did not waste the second chance I was given.”

And as 13-year-old Natalia Bascunan of Nutley, New Jersey, will attest, loved ones and special moments are the most important illustration of Life Is Why. Natalia made the Little League all-star team years after facing two open-heart surgeries for a heart defect.

“They loved it because she was the only girl in the state on an all-boys team,” said Natalia’s mom, Roe Corsi. “When they found out she had a heart condition, they loved her even more.”

Another person who has embraced life’s special moments thanks to better health is Bernie Dennis, a longtime volunteer with the AHA who is now the chairman of the board.

Dennis said he didn’t appreciate the risks he was taking with his health until he had three heart attacks in one month, followed by a quadruple bypass. While he recovered, he started realizing some of the things he’d taken for granted.

“I can remember the fact that I was sitting on my porch saying to myself, ‘this is the first time in my life I’ve appreciated the warmth of the sun in May,’” he said.

Getting healthier has meant Dennis has gone on to experience precious family time that he would’ve missed. A high school graduation. A wedding. Playing with his “two beautiful granddaughters.” And dressing up as Santa Claus at Christmas.

“There’s a choice you get to make about living or not living,” he said. “My wife’s hand gave me reason to live. My wonderful family gave me reason to live.”

Learn more at www.lifeiswhy.org 

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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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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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Pressing Congress to Keep Special Interests off School Menus

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following comments today on the House Appropriations Committee’s approval of a proposed waiver that would allow school districts to withdraw from federal school nutrition standards:

“By giving special interests a seat at the school lunch table, some members of Congress are putting politics before the health of our children. Any attempt to suspend or abolish school meal requirements will undermine parents’ efforts to keep their kids healthy and put another generation of children on the highway to heart disease and stroke. It’s even more frustrating that an amendment to reverse this food folly, offered today by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), was defeated in a straight party-line vote.

Schools, where kids spend most of their days, play a critical role in helping students establish good eating habits, which they desperately need to combat being overweight or obese. Already one third of America’s children fall into one of these categories. Hitting the pause button on any of the school lunch standards could mean more of the nation’s young will eat their way into this terrible trend.

We also cannot dismiss the progress made so far in providing the nutritious foods that will help the young achieve better long-term health and academic success. A USDA analysis revealed that kids are eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit when they sit down for their mid-day meal at school. They are also consuming less sugar, fat and sodium. Less salt consumption is particularly important because more young people are developing high blood pressure – once viewed solely as an adult disease.

In addition, cries for more flexibility from schools have and will continue to be met by the USDA. For instance, when schools informed the agency they couldn’t obtain the whole grain pastas necessary under the standards, the USDA said traditional pasta could be used for two years until the food industry creates these products. The department is also supporting training sessions to assist schools with the standards and preparation for the Smart Snacks requirement.

We cannot go back to the days when the answer to ‘What’s for lunch?’ was pizza, french fries and chicken nuggets. America’s school lunch program works and will help our children live free of heart disease and stroke. Our urgent plea to Congress is to not undo the program’s strong progress by putting special interests back on school menus.” 

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AHA Questions Sodium Delay in School Foods

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following comments today on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill that would delay the sodium requirement for school foods under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act:

“Unlike the House version, the Senate appropriations bill does an admirable job of putting kids’ health before special interests. It also helps address some of the challenges schools are dealing with as they apply the nutrition standards for school foods.

However, the association is confused and concerned about the provision included in this legislation that delays the Tier 2 sodium decrease in school foods until “scientific research supports the reduction in children.” Perhaps we need to remind the committee members about the 2010 Institute of Medicine report that clearly laid out evidence in support of every nutrition standard required by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. 

In short, we don’t need any more research to tell us that our children must decrease their daily salt intake. The average school lunch provides nearly enough sodium for the entire day. Without this reduction, more of them will develop the high blood pressure that could lead to heart disease and stroke before they reach adulthood.

We would also like to point out that lower sodium foods are already available. Product lines from several major food companies offer soups, spaghetti sauces, chicken – and even pizza which could help schools meet the Tier 2 sodium standard, which doesn’t go into effect until 2017. Many companies have worked hard to comply with the next set of standards and their efforts should be encouraged – not undermined. 

Finally, the USDA has been extremely flexible in assisting schools which have faced difficulties with the other nutrition standards for a variety of issues. We are certain the agency would be willing to make accommodations for schools on the sodium reduction if supply becomes a problem for specific institutions.

Therefore, we see no reason for this provision and are concerned that it may dissuade companies from taking steps to reformulate their products to make them healthier for kids. We strongly recommend that Congress exclude this provision from the bill and work with the USDA to address these issues as they arise.”   

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200+ Groups Tell Congress to Keep School Nutrition Standards Strong

More than 200 national, state and local organizations (including the American Heart Association) signed a statement urging Congress to oppose efforts to weaken or delay nutrition standards that were set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and went into effect during the current school year.   90% of schools have stepped-up and are successfully providing schools lunches that meet the nutrition standards.  And many schools have already taken necessary steps to make the snack foods and beverages they offer healthier too.  Yet, some in Congress argue that providing healthy food to students is too much of a burden. 

Check out what our coalition had to say:

We, the undersigned organizations, strongly oppose efforts to use the appropriations process to change or weaken federal child nutrition programs, including potential efforts to require the inclusion of white potatoes in the WIC Program, to alter or delay implementation of meal standards in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, or to weaken or delay rules to limit sugary beverages and unhealthy snack foods in our nation’s schools. For decades, Congress has wisely ensured that federal child nutrition programs have been guided by science. Science-based decisions have served our children and our nation well. Accordingly, we strongly urge you to oppose efforts to intervene in science-based rules regarding the federal child nutrition programs.  

See the full list of supporting organizations here.

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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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Help Cut Junk Food Ads Out of Schools!

It's pop quiz time!  One of these things are not like the others. Can you pick out the one that doesn’t belong?

A) Students
B) Physical education
C) Teachers
D) Books
E) Junk food ads

Did you pick E?  Me too, because all of these things belong in our nation’s schools except junk food advertising.  From vending machines and stadium sponsorships to cups and posters in cafeterias, unhealthy foods and drinks are being marketed in schools across the country.  But we have an opportunity to help change that.

Will you join the chorus of nutrition advocates speaking-up against junk food marketing in schools?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed updates to standards for local school wellness policies, which include common-sense guidelines for food marketing in schools.  Basically, if a food or drink doesn’t meet the nutrition standards to be sold in schools, it shouldn’t be marketed in schools. 
 
Make sense to you? 
 
Please take two minutes to submit a letter to the USDA expressing your support for moving forward with these important changes.  The agency is only accepting public comments until April 28th, so don’t delay. 

In addition to food marketing, the proposed changes address a variety of ways to keep our students healthy. Nutrition and physical activity must be cornerstones of a solid education for every student and these new regulations would help school districts and communities come together to achieve that goal.

Thank you for all you do to help build healthier school environments for kids!

 

PS- Once you take action, please encourage your network to add their voices too!  Share this post on Facebook & Twitter to help us reach our goal of 5,000 comments to the USDA.

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Spring Has Sprung and So Has Budget Season!

It’s that time of year again.  While we wait for the cherry blossoms to bloom in Washington, D.C., budget discussions are heating up between the White House and Capitol Hill. 

On March 4th, the President released his budget proposal for 2015 and now Members of Congress are working to establish their funding priorities to begin the appropriations process and eventually pass a budget.  And that’s where you come in! 

With tight economic times, we need to continue to make the case for heart disease and stroke research and prevention funding that helps drive innovation, cuts health care costs, improves the health of our workforce, protects the health of our youngest generations, and saves lives.  Basically, your lawmakers need to hear from you that the fight against our nation’s No. 1 and No. 4 killers, heart disease and stroke, must be prioritized. 

In addition to funding that would help communities support walking, biking, and recreation, and funding for nutrition programs that would improve access to healthy food and nutrition education, the President’s budget included two key issues that deserve a special note:

  • On the positive side, the budget included a public health ‘win-win’ by proposing an increase to the federal tobacco tax, which would help curb youth smoking rates, to pay for efforts to improve early childhood education, which includes nutrition and physical education for our youngest Americans. 
  • On the negative side, the budget proposed near level funding for the National Institutes of Health, which is disappointing for research-advocates who are continuing to push our nation’s lawmakers to restore significant cuts to the NIH that took place last spring.  As our AHA President Dr. Mariell Jessup said in a statement, “With a meager 1 percent increase over last year, President Obama’s proposed budget for the National Institutes of Health is utterly inadequate.”

But the President’s budget proposal isn’t the end of these decisions.  The work now shifts to Members of Congress to consider these proposals, set their priorities, and negotiate to pass a final budget.  In fact, right now, our legislators are submitting their funding priorities to leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and we need your help to speak-up for heart disease and stroke research!  Will you take two minutes to send a quick message to Congress?  

Without us speaking up- loud and clear- for important funding increases to the NIH, we will see progress and innovation in the way we prevent, diagnose, and treat heart disease and stroke slip backward.  From the jobs it creates to the lives it saves, medical research must be made a priority in the U.S..  Speak-up today! 

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Big Changes in Store for Food Labels

After more than two decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing sweeping changes to the nutrition labels on packaged foods.

The proposals would require food manufacturers to list added sugars, nutrition counts for more-realistic portion sizes and total nutrition information for multiple servings of food within a single package.  The government also wants to require potassium and vitamin D to be listed.

The changes are being released on Thursday during a critical time in the U.S. A third of all adults in the nation are obese, increasing the risk for high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Another third of Americans are overweight.

“Eating healthy is a habit all Americans need to have and the FDA’s new nutrition labels will help put that goal within reach,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said. “By arming consumers with more knowledge about nutritional content, calories and serving sizes, the new labeling information proposed by the FDA takes an important step toward improving the health of all Americans.”

Despite the recent news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that obesity has declined by 43 percent for children ages 2 to 5, it has not changed significantly for adults or the larger pool of kids ages 2 to 19.

Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults. And obesity in children is causing a health problems that used to be seen only in adults, like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

Changes to nutrition labels will take time. The FDA will collect comments for 90 days on its proposed new rules from food manufacturers, the general public and nutrition and health advocates. It will consider clarifications or changes based on the comments, then give food manufacturers time to reprint their labels and replace existing inventory.

“These new labels will empower consumers with a valuable source of nutrition information, and the American Heart Association commends the FDA for proposing these changes,” Brown said.

Proposed changes include:

Added sugars: for the first time, added sugars will be on the nutrition facts panel. Previously, naturally-occurring and added sugars were combined into a single listing of “total sugars.” This will allow consumers to know how much sugar has been added by the manufacturer. The AHA recommends that women consume a maximum of 100 calories a day from added sugars, or 25 grams, and men consume 150 calories a day, or 37.5 grams.

“The addition of added sugars to the Nutrition Facts Panel is a giant step forward,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee and professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “High intakes of added sugars are associated with many risk factors for heart disease including obesity, high blood pressure, inflammation and elevated triglyceride levels. A recent study demonstrated an association between high intakes of added sugars and death from cardiovascular disease. Consumers want to know how much sugar has been added during the processing or preparation of foods so they can make wise decisions about the foods they eat.”

Serving sizes: Adjusted for 17 categories of foods to better reflect what people are actually consuming. For example, ice cream will go from ½ cup to 1 cup; muffins and bagels will go from ½ to 1; and beverages will go from 8 ounces to 12 oz. This gives people a more realistic idea of what they’re actually consuming in a single sitting, so they can better monitor what they’re eating and make healthier choices.

Sodium: This will be adjusted slightly to reflect a 2,300 milligram daily value, which is the maximum amount per day recommended in the dietary guidelines for someone consuming a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet. The American Heart Association recommends that the ideal sodium consumption, especially for people trying to lower their blood pressure, is 1,500 mg. per day.  “There is strong scientific evidence that indicates lowering sodium reduction can result in significant reductions in blood pressure,” Brown said. ”Therefore, the association will continue to recommend sodium intake to be limited to 1,500 milligrams a day. We intend to work with the FDA, during this 90-day comment period and beyond if need be, to highlight the increased benefits from further sodium reductions and to advocate for stronger action.”

Package size: Like serving sizes, package sizes will be labeled more accurately. So a large muffin or bottle of soda will have nutrition information for the entire package.

Per serving and per package: If a package has 2-4 servings in it, the label will be required to show nutrition information per serving and per package. This helps make it clear when the package has multiple servings inside.

Calories bigger and bolder: Although the format of the label won’t change dramatically, calories and serving sizes will be emphasized with a bigger and bolder font. This may help people make healthier choices by knowing what they’re consuming.

Nutrient listings: The amount of potassium and vitamin D will now be required, calcium and iron will remain and vitamins A and C will be optional. When the nutrition label was last updated 20 years ago, health officials were more concerned about people getting enough of vitamins A and C, but attention now is on potassium and D.

Want to help inform friends & family about these changes?  Share this graphic on Facebook.





















For more information:

FDA announcement

AHA CEO Nancy Brown's Statement

Understanding food nutrition labels

American Heart Association Nutrition Center 

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Farm Bill Full of Both Wins and Losses, says AHA

Washington, D.C., Feb. 4, 2014 —American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following comments on the Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, passed by Congress today: 

The passage of the Farm Bill today has been long-anticipated and the American Heart Association is pleased that Congress has come to an agreement on this important legislation. While it took two long years of negotiations and a lot of hard work, we wish the final bill was less of an alphabet soup of wins and losses for health and nutrition programs.

We are encouraged that multiple provisions in the bill promote healthy food consumption. Sustained funding for the SNAP-Ed program will help more Americans on limited budgets make better food choices. The legislation also expands the program to include physical activity education, which plays an important role in helping Americans maintain their health. In addition, the bill authorizes the Healthy Food Financing Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program, which establishes grocery stores in underserved communities where none exist, will provide access to healthier foods and help boost local economies.

However, we remain very concerned about the $8.6 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Any funding reduction to this program, which supports nutrition and food access, will make it more difficult for some of the most vulnerable Americans, including seniors and low-income families with children, to afford a healthy diet.

We are also troubled that the legislation creates a pilot within the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program that expands eligibility beyond fresh produce to canned, frozen and dried options. While the association believes that all whole fruits and vegetables regardless of their form are important for kids to eat, the current program plays a unique role by providing the poorest children in our country with much-needed exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables. We will closely monitor this pilot effort to ensure that it does not undermine the impact and integrity of this nutrition education program.

As always, our association remains committed to ensuring that all Americans have access to the nutritional information and food choices they need to stay heart healthy.”

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Advocates Lobby for FIT Kids

Nine remarkable You’re the Cure advocates met Jan. 28th with Members of Congress in Washington, D.C. to request support for the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act. FIT Kids is a bipartisan bill that would help ensure children receive quality physical education at school.

The advocates, a mix of physical education teachers, school administrators, researchers and parents, urged lawmakers to consider the importance of investing in a child’s health and academic achievement through quality, evidence-based physical education. The advocates shared anecdotal evidence and research that shows regular physical education addresses the childhood obesity epidemic and leads to healthier children who behave and learn better in the classroom.

Advocate Kevin Herber, a PE teacher from WI, cited extremely limited budgets and the inability to maintain and replace equipment as a clear demonstration of the need for federal support for physical education programs. After a day of training, advocate Bill Bailey from Alaska offered thanks to the American Heart Association for organizing the event on this important topic. Many of the advocates in DC cited their role as parents as a motivating factor in their passion for this bill.

Advocates across the country showed their support for those in DC, too,  sending more than 4,800 email messages to Capitol Hill in support of the FIT Kids Act, and creating buzz on our You’re the Cure facebook page.

With your help, we will continue to advocate strongly for FIT Kids.  Get started now- take action today! Then comment below to tell us why PE matters to you!

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Are You One of the 9 Out of 10?

Did you know that 9 out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium? The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is educating consumers and providing tips to decrease the sodium in your diet. You may be surprised to learn that the greatest amount of sodium in our food comes from food purchased in retail stores, such as supermarkets or convenience stores.


Why should we care about sodium intake? Excess sodium in the diet can increase a person’s risk for high blood pressure which can lead to heart disease and stroke. That’s why it’s important to get the facts and spread the word. Check out our infographic to get the facts, and then share via your social networks. Better yet, share the infographic with elected officials and help us educate leaders in your states.

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The 2013 State Legislative Wrap-Up is Here!

Today’s blog post is by Mark Schoeberl, the American Heart Association’s Executive Vice President of Advocacy and Health Quality

I am pleased to again this year present you with our annual report of state and local public policy progress. We take pride in the diligent efforts of our advocates, volunteers and staff who ensure that we remain focused on helping improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans.  As you read this report you will quickly realize that we saw unprecedented public policy success across the country during this last fiscal year.  The victories you will read about in the following pages have a direct and profound impact on our 2020 national goal: To improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent.

As we review our 2012–2013 state and local public policy, we should be proud of our active advocacy presence in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.  We helped support the passage of state laws and local ordinances that impact heart disease and stroke risk factors as well as policies that further protect survivors of heart disease or stroke.  Our significant public policy achievements, which you can read about below, include public policies enacted in fifteen states that will assure all newborns are screened for critical congenital heart disease before going home for the first time. Seven states enacted new laws that will assure all students have been CPR trained before they graduate from high school. In the area of encouraging physical activity, two states passed shared use laws that will expand opportunities for physical activity in communities across those states. Six states enacted policy that will strengthen their stroke systems of care and six states moved to strengthen their STEMI systems of care.  Four states were successful in increasing their public funding for heart disease and stroke at the state level. Tobacco tax increases occurred in three states and two states moved to strengthen their smokefree air laws.

On behalf of the thousands of You’re the Cure advocates, association volunteers, donors, and staff who have made these successes possible, it is my pleasure to present to you this annual report of state and local advocacy accomplishments.  Together, we are the architects of a healthier future.

 

 Click on the image to view the 2013 State Legislative Wrap-Up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS- Stay tuned next month for a video highlighting these successes!  We’ll need your help to share it with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors to demonstrate the progress we’re making toward healthier communities and healthier lives through public policy changes… and to encourage others to join the You’re the Cure movement too!

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Praise for the FDA's Action on Trans Fat

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following comments on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) tentative determination that partially hydrogenated oils are not “generally recognized as safe,” which begins the process to eliminate trans fats from the food supply:

“The FDA’s actions to ultimately remove artificial trans fat from the diets of all Americans is a tremendous step forward in the fight against heart disease.  The American Heart Association has long advocated for eliminating trans fat from the nation’s food supply, and we commend the FDA for responding to the numerous concerns and evidence submitted over the years about the dangers of this industrially produced ingredient.

The scientific evidence is clear – eating food with trans fat increases production of “bad” cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease. One Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study indicated that avoiding foods containing artificially produced trans fat could prevent 10,000-20,000 heart attacks and 3,000-7,000 coronary heart disease deaths each year in the U.S.

In addition to taking trans fat off the “generally recognized as safe” list, the association hopes the FDA will go further and revise the labeling for “trans fat-free” foods. Current policy allows food products with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat to round down and list zero grams on the Nutrition Facts Panel.  This policy confuses and misleads consumers about the amount of trans fat they are actually eating.

Eating a healthy diet is a critical element of prevention, and prevention is the key to conquering heart disease – our nation’s No. 1 killer. Taking artificial trans fat out of foods will help Americans achieve this goal and build lives free of heart disease.  The association stands ready to support the FDA in its work to eliminate this unsafe ingredient from our food supply.” 

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Get Ready for National Eating Healthy Day!

Take the first step to making healthier food choices by taking part in the American Heart Association's National Eating Healthy Day on Wednesday, Nov. 6.  On this day, Americans are encouraged to make small, healthy changes and raise the awareness of the importance of good nutrition.  Give your family, friends and co-workers a friendly push toward a healthier life.

Sign Up for Your Toolkit: Celebrating National Eating Healthy Day is easy!  Complete the registration form today to receive our free National Eating Healthy Day ToolkitIt includes lots of fun materials and tips to easily promote National Eating Healthy Day in your community or workplace.  Look for the link to the kit in your confirmation email

Get Healthy: Statistics show that one in two men and one in three women are at risk for heart disease, and research shows that poor lifestyle is a major contributor.  From walking clubs and paths to cooking tips and easy-made recipes, the American Heart Association’s My Heart. My Life. healthy living initiative helps individuals and families understand how to get active and eat healthy.  Visit MyHeartMyLife.org to learn more.

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The Government is Shut Down, but Our Fight Is Not

Turn on any cable news station these days and you’ll see it… the continuously running clock that is tracking the hours and minutes of the government shutdown.  When I see it, I can’t help but think about what could or should have been accomplished during that time, especially when it comes to important policy changes that can help Americans live healthier lives. 

Will you speak-up and tell Congress that we can’t afford inaction when it comes to the fight against heart disease and stroke?  

You see, the 10 days our nation’s elected officials have spent trying to figure out how to reopen the government is time they could have used to:

1) Restore funding for the National Institutes of Health, which supports life-saving heart disease and stroke research.

2) Make progress toward the passage of an education bill that includes the regular, quality physical education our kids need to stay active and healthy.

3) Extend the Medicare therapy caps exceptions process which is necessary in order to ensure Medicare beneficiaries who have a stroke are able to access and afford the rehabilitation they need. 

With less than three months left before the end of the year, we need a quick resolution to the government shutdown to ensure Congress is able to address these key issues and others.  And while our lawmakers have been doing a lot of talking lately, it is time for them to listen… to you!

Please take two minutes right now to remind Congress about the work left on their ‘to-do’ list that heart disease and stroke patients, caregivers, researchers, and advocates are counting on them to accomplish. 

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Healthy Habits: One of the Most Precious Gifts We Can Give Our Children

The following excerpt is from a blog post by American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown published on The Huffington Post's The Blog on August 27th.  It is first in a series produced by The Huffington Post and the American Heart Association addressing important, timely topics in heart health and wellness.  In the coming weeks, Nancy and featured experts will examine the issues related to heart disease and provide information, ideas and insight on the Huffington Post's The Blog.

Every parent wants the very best for their children. With back-to-school season underway, there's no better time to put the spotlight on one of the most important ways we can help them: by encouraging them to develop healthy lifestyles at the youngest possible age. In addition to the ABCs and arithmetic, our earliest years are when we learn and build daily habits that can last a lifetime. Many of these habits, like the foods and beverages we consume and the amount of physical activity we get, can have a profound effect on the quality of our lives and our likelihood of developing major illnesses later in life. As Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald wrote, healthy lifestyles, along with risk factor awareness and regular screenings, are essential to maintaining optimum health.

It's important to get kids off to the healthiest possible start, and that message has never been more urgent than it is today. In recent years, we've seen the very troubling emergence of obesity as a national health crisis, impacting not only adults but also children. Today, about one of three American kids and teens are overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. This is a trend that has to be halted, and it's a challenge that has major implications for our nation's future.

Among children today, obesity is causing a broad range of physical health problems -- such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels -- that previously weren't seen until adulthood. Excess weight at a young age has been linked to higher and earlier death rates in adulthood. In fact, obese children as young as age 3 show indicators for developing heart disease later in life. And overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults.

Read Nancy's complete Huffington Post blog post- Healthy Habits: One of the Most Precious Gifts We Can Give Our Children.

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Pants Too Tight? Cut the Salt!

Nine out of ten Americans consume too much salt- and more and more we are hearing about the serious health consequences it leads to.  Excess sodium in your diet can cause high blood pressure and lead to heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, headaches, and more.  But did you know that extra sodium may also be affecting your appearance? 

Surprising, right? Excess sodium leads to increased water retention, which can cause puffiness, bloating, and weight gain.  You can learn more from our new inforgraphic- Effects of Excess Sodium on Health and Appearance.

 With the average American consuming more than twice the daily recommended limit of sodium, this is important information we all need to be aware of.  Share the new infographic with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter today.

The sooner you can start to reduce your salt intake, the better off your heart will be.  And maybe it will make fitting into those pants a little easier too!

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An Education Bill Without Physical Education? No Way!

You’re not going to believe this!  The U.S. House of Representatives passed its big education bill this month… but do you know what’s missing from it?  Physical education!

With one in three children overweight or obese in the U.S. and only 3.8% of elementary, 7.9% of middle, and 2.1% of high schools providing daily physical education (PE), it’s clear there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.  And we need your help to tell our nation’s decision makers to step-up!

Ask your Members of Congress to co-sponsor the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act today.

The FIT Kids Act would help improve the quality and quantity of PE kids receive during the school day by:

  • helping schools implement programs to support evidenced-based PE, fitness, and nutrition,
  • supporting professional development for health and PE teachers,
  • ensuring parents are informed about and involved in school wellness efforts, and
  • assisting schools to provide equal physical activity opportunities for students with disabilities.

Six Members of Congress have already stepped forward in support of the FIT Kids Act, which means there are 529 legislators that still need to hear from their constituents (aka: YOU!) about the bill.  Please take two minutes to send an email right now… we even got it started for you.

Physically active kids are healthier, learn more effectively, achieve more academically, and have fewer behavioral problems.  So, it’s a no-brainer that physical education must be part of a well-rounded education for today’s kids.

We’ll keep you updated on Congress’ work to pass a final education bill- and the progress we’re making on the FIT Kids Act.

Thank you for exercising your voice!

PS - We need advocates in every state contacting their Members of Congress about FIT Kids. Help us get the word out by sharing this call-to-action on Facebook or Twitter.

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Introducing...Voices for Healthy Kids

We’re proud to share news of a recent collaboration between the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation aimed at engaging, organizing and mobilizing people to improve the health of their communities and reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. Voices for Healthy Kids is focused on advocating for changes to local, state, and federal policies in order to help young people eat healthier foods and be more active.

The campaign issue focus will aim to:

· improve the nutritional quality of snack foods and beverages in schools
· increase children’s physical activity levels during out-of-school time
· protect children from unhealthy food and beverage marketing
· increase access to affordable healthy foods
· reduce consumption of sugary beverages
· increase access to parks, playgrounds, walking paths, bike lanes and other safe places to be active

We invite you to learn more about this effort and take advantage of the July 9th “Signs of Progress Toward Reversing the Childhood Obesity Epidemic” event. The Washington D.C. event featured speakers from across the country sharing their experiences and engaging leaders in a dialogue. You can learn how to take best practices back to your communities and get involved. Visit us online to listen to the webinar recording.

You can also find Voices for Healthy Kids on Facebook and Twitter

Tell us what you think!  What issues are you most excited to work on as an advocate?  Tell us in the comments below!

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USDA Releases Strong Standards for Snacks in Our Schools

Washington, D.C., June 27, 2013 — American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following comments today on the interim final rule on “competitive foods” in the nation’s schools, released today by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): 

“The new USDA guidelines for competitive foods will make a huge dent in the 400 billion calories from junk foods our kids consume at school every year. For the first time in 30 years, we have a robust nutrition framework for the foods and beverages sold in school vending machines, stores, snack bars and a la carte lines. These strong standards will not only transform the food and beverages offered in schools, they will help create optimal learning environments where our children can thrive.

With these standards, the USDA has taken a significant step toward improving childhood nutrition.  They have removed low-nutrition, high-calorie foods from schools – foods that place children at greater risk for serious health problems such high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.  The healthier options made possible by these new guidelines will encourage children to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and will support parents’ efforts to make sure their kids get the nutrition they need away from home.

Creating a school environment that supports healthy choices is the best way to encourage young people to form the positive habits they will keep for the rest of their lives.  We look forward to working with the USDA to ensure that future generations eat healthy and enjoy lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke.” 

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VT Advocate Makes the Case for Taxing Unhealthy Products

Dr. Mary Cushman (right), President of the American Heart Association's Vermont board, recently had an opinion piece published in the Burlington Free Press regarding prevention, health care costs, and taxing unhealthy products.  Check out what she had to say... 

"If we want to get serious about reducing health care costs we need to focus on prevention. Sometimes that’s not the easiest choice. No one likes raising taxes. But taxing unhealthy products like cigarettes and sugar sweetened beverages can deter people from buying these products.

In the end, that’s a bonus for the people who consume less of these and a bonus for Vermonters who are already paying health care expenses and taxes to address the harms caused by these products.

Yes, it would have cost 80 cents extra for a pack of cigarettes (just 4 cents more for a cigarette) in Vermont if we had implemented the tobacco tax increase that was proposed this past session. But this small price to pay by smokers would have prevented 1,900 kids from smoking and saved over $70 million in long-term health costs for Vermont." 

Read Dr. Cushman's full opinion piece here.

Share your thoughts!  What do you think about tobacco tax increases and efforts to establish a sugar-sweetened beverage tax in some states and cities, as a way to help prevent diseases and cut health care spending?  Tell us in the comments below. 

 

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Roaring Thunder for Healthy School Snacks

Nearly 250,000 people across the country — including you and 2,500 of your fellow You’re the Cure advocates — spoke-up to support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to set strong nutrition standards for foods and drinks sold in school vending machines, a la carte lines, and snack bars

Now let's keep the momentum going!  The movement is uniting once again to ask the USDA to finalize the proposal, so schools can begin to move toward implementation of the nutrition standards.

You can help by taking part in a Thunderclap scheduled for Friday, June 21st that will harness the power of social media to spread the word.

Don’t know what a Thunderclap is? Here’s how it works… 

  1. Visit our Thunderclap page.
  2. Select “Support with Twitter” or “Support with Facebook” to agree to have our unified message- “Thanks #USDA 4 work 2 make school snacks healthier. We're with u as u finalize #SmartSnacks rule! moms.ly/GoUSDA.” - posted to your Twitter and/or Facebook account.
  3. If enough people join the Thunderclap, all of the messages will post at once on June 21st, helping to possibly get smart snacks as a trending topic on Twitter!

Click here to join the Thunderclap now!

Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do to ensure kids have healthier options at school!


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Senators to Nickelodeon: Prohibit Unhealthy Food Ads

This week, four U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), sent a joint letter to Nickelodeon and its parent company Viacom requesting that the children’s entertainment network prohibit advertisements that market unhealthy food to children.  

Last year, over 1,500 You’re the Cure advocates delivered a similar message to Nickelodeon, given the proven impact food advertising has been shown to have on our kids’ food choices. 

It’s time for Nickelodeon to follow the Walt Disney Company’s lead in setting responsible advertising standards that are in the best interest of our kids.  In 2012, Disney announced it will no longer accept advertisements for junk food on its child-directed television, radio, and online sites. 

Check out the letter that was sent to the Presidents of Viacom and Nickelodeon by the Senators this week:

Dear Mr. Dauman and Ms. Zarghami,      

As a leading multi-media entertainment destination for children and adolescents, Nickelodeon has a special opportunity—and responsibility—to help address our nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. We ask that you implement a clear policy to guide the marketing of food to children on Nickelodeon’s various media platforms, including the advertisements on your channels, Internet sites, and mobile platforms.      

Over the past three decades, childhood obesity has doubled among children and tripled among adolescents, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese youth are at greater risk of having high cholesterol or high blood pressure, prediabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and self-esteem issues. Obese youth are also more likely to be obese as adults, and are at higher risk for adult health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis. The medical costs associated with obesity have a significant economic impact on our nation’s health care system, totaling approximately $147 billion in 2008.      

While there are many factors that contribute to childhood obesity, food marketing plays an important role. A 2006 Institute of Medicine report requested by Congress found that television advertisements influenced children’s food and beverage preferences and the requests they make to their parents. Nickelodeon is in a key position to help safeguard the health and well-being of our kids, and your decisions on what products are permitted to be advertised through your network have an impact on our children’s diets and long-term health prospects.      

According to a 2010 report by the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Nickelodeon currently airs a quarter of the food advertisements that are viewed by children under 12. In 2012, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 69 percent of foods advertised on Nickelodeon were of poor nutritional quality, including fast foods, sugary cereals, and sweet snacks.      

We applaud the initiatives that Nickelodeon has taken to promote healthy lifestyles for children, including through health and wellness messaging, but remain concerned that Nickelodeon continues to run advertisements for food and beverage products of poor nutritional quality.      

One year ago last week, the Walt Disney Corporation took the important step of announcing that it would no longer accept advertisements for unhealthy foods on television, radio, and websites directed at children. Like other companies, Disney has found success in focusing their food marketing on healthy foods that contribute to the health and fitness of their viewers. Given Nickelodeon’s commitment to fighting childhood obesity and responsibility to the youth that comprise your audience, we ask that the company promptly take similar action to implement strong nutrition standards for all of its marketing to children. We look forward to your response.      

Sincerely,

Richard Blumenthal, John D. Rockefeller IV, Tom Harkin, & Richard J. Durbin

What do you think?  Do you agree that Nickelodeon should set stronger nutrition standards for the foods and beverages they allow to advertise on their media channels?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Exercise Your Voice for FIT Kids & Active Americans!

Do you get the recommended amount of physical activity each day?  How about the kids in your life?

If you said no, you are not alone.  Unfortunately, more than 25% of adults do not devote any time to getting their body moving during the day and 62% of kids do not get the daily vigorous activity they need.  This means we need to be doing more- as individuals, as communities, and as a nation- to prioritize physical activity where people live, work, learn, and play.    

Right now, there is an exciting opportunity to take some big steps forward toward that goal, as Congress considers two pieces of legislation that aim to help increase physical activity among kids, teens, and adults.  Will you help us build support for these important bills? 

First, the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative Ron Kind (D-WI), and Representative Aaron Schock (R-IL), would help prioritize physical education (PE) in our nation’s schools, giving kids the head start they need toward a healthy life.  With nearly one in three children overweight or obese and only 3.8% of elementary schools, 7.9% of middle schools, and 2.1% of high schools providing daily PE, the FIT Kids Act is needed now more than ever to improve the quality and quantity of PE kids receive during the school day. 

Additionally, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Act would help guide our national, community, and individual efforts to increase physical activity, by directing the Department of Health and Human Services to issue recommendations to the public every 10 years based on the latest science.  The bipartisan bill was introduced by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI) and Aaron Schock (R-IL).

How many legislators do you think we can get to sign on to these two important bills within the next month?  Exercise your voice today to ask your Representative and Senators to become co-sponsors of the FIT Kids Act and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Act.

 

 

 

 

PS- Don’t forget to share the call to action on Facebook and Twitter to encourage friends and family to act too! 

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Praise for New Report on Physical Education

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown released the following statement today on the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report, Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School, and the re-introduction of the FIT Kids Act in Congress:

“This new IOM report reminds us once again that the nation’s schools are on the frontline of the fight against childhood obesity. We fully support the IOM’s recommendation to create a whole-of-school approach that encourages students to receive 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. The American Heart Association welcomes the IOM’s reinforcement of our longstanding recommendation and efforts to work with school districts to offer quality physical education courses during which students spend a significant amount of time participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity. 

From their first day of school, our children are instructed that proficiency in math and reading literacy will put them on the path to becoming successful adults. But too often they are not educated in the skills that will help them lead a healthy and happy life free of cardiovascular diseases, stroke and other chronic illnesses. As the IOM report advocates, schools must create environments that promote the lifetime benefits of physical activity and help students incorporate it into their daily routine.

Our organization remains committed to raising the public’s awareness about the powerful link between childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease. One solution we strongly support is the Fit Kids Act, which was re-introduced today by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), in the Senate and by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), in the House of Representatives. This legislation would strengthen physical education programs throughout the country by providing grants to schools across the country to implement physical education programs. The bill would also require educational agencies to monitor and report on the amount of time students spend engaging in physical activity and education compared to national standards endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The new IOM report makes a similar recommendation.

We are also pleased that Representatives Kind and Schock have introduced legislation today that would require regular updating of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This legislation, which was introduced in the Senate in March by Senator Harkin and Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) in March, would ensure that these critical guidelines are regularly updated and are based on the latest and best scientific evidence.”

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Shaping-Up Food in Schools- Part 2

Thanks to updated nutrition standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture  (USDA) that went into effect last fall, school meals now have more whole grains, fruits and vegetables- and less sodium, fats, and sugars.  Check out this delicious and nutritious offering from the Saint Paul Public Schools.

But right next to healthier meals like this are offerings, known as competitive foods, that don’t have to follow the same updated guidelines that school meals do.  Isn’t it about time that the nutrition standards for food sold in school vending machines, a la carte lines, snack bars, and school stores are based on the latest science and nutritional needs of children?

Tell the USDA you support strong, consistent nutrition standard for all foods and drinks sold in schools.

Roughly 40% of students buy a snack at school each day, which can contribute to excess calories if kids aren’t making healthy choices, or don’t have healthy options available to them.  By strengthening nutrition standards for all foods offered in the school environment, we can clear up the mixed messages kids are getting and help them ‘snack smart’. 

In order to make this update happen, the USDA needs to see a strong display of public support.  Over 1,200 You’re the Cure advocates have already taken action- and we need YOU to keep that tally rising. 

Please take two minutes to send a message to the USDA now.  Public comments will only be accepted until April 9th.    

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Competitive Foods Rule Puts Kids’ Health First

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following comments today on the USDA’s preliminary rule on “competitive foods” in the nation’s schools:

“The new competitive foods rule has the right ingredients to keep American kids healthy. Less salt, sugar and fat in the snacks and drinks kids have access to at school will help them maintain a normal weight and help keep them free of heart disease and stroke.

Schools, where kids spend most of their day, play a significant role in what they eat. These new standards are a much-needed step forward in the school food environment. They will provide an excellent opportunity to promote more fruits and vegetables and whole-grain foods in children’s diets.  Even more importantly, when combined with the nutrition standards for school meals, they will lower children’s high sodium intake. In addition, we are pleased to see that the rule sets minimum standards that states can exceed if they choose.

We greatly appreciate that in developing these new guidelines, the USDA took into consideration the voluntary standards developed by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which was founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation.

In the coming weeks, the association will submit more detailed comments on the proposed competitive foods rule.  We are committed to working with the USDA and our partners to create a positive nutritional environment in the nation’s schools. These new food and beverage guidelines will go a long way in achieving that goal by putting kids’ health first and giving us the tools to fight childhood obesity.”

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Praise for the HeLP America Act

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following statement today on “The Healthier Lifestyles and Prevention America (HeLP America) Act,” introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA):

“Sen. Tom Harkin’s tireless efforts on behalf of prevention are greatly appreciated by the American Heart Association and we enthusiastically support the HeLP America Act.

Prevention is one of the strongest tools we have in the fight against heart disease and stroke.  Investing in programs that propel the use of prevention measures such as increased physical activity, improved nutrition and reduced tobacco use will help Americans adopt healthier habits, and ultimately drive down our nation’s rising health care costs. The HeLP America Act accomplishes this by expanding prevention efforts in schools, communities, and workplaces.

For example, provisions included in this legislation will help make physical education a priority for our school children, a goal we believe is a strong way to help attack our childhood obesity problem and develop well-educated and healthy students.  Other initiatives in the bill, such as a requirement for a science-based update to the Physical Activity Guidelines every 10 years, will also help Americans of all ages boost their levels of physical activity.

While the nation’s nutrition policy has advanced in the past few years, there is still work to be done. We are also glad to see many other positive nutrition provisions in the bill, including an expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, an initiative which helps low-income children have access to these foods, help them learn about healthy habits, and help them make informed nutrition choices.  The legislation also goes a long way to close existing loopholes on tobacco taxes and increase Medicaid coverage to help smokers break the chains of their addiction.

We look forward to working with Sen. Harkin and our partners to advocate for this legislation and improve the public health of all Americans. ”

Learn more about the HeLP America Act.

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“Hello! My name is ____”

It’s time to welcome the 113th Congress!  We all know the best welcomes are personal, so we’re asking You’re the Cure advocates to introduce themselves to their members of Congress by recording a video and uploading it to Facebook.

We’re calling it the “Hello, my name is ____” campaign.  We want your elected officials to know you and your heart or stroke story- and to remember it when they vote this year.  When you record your video, consider using this script (and try to keep your video to about 60 seconds!):

 “Hi my name is [your name] from [City, State].”

 “I am passionate about policy changes that can help improve cardiovascular health in this country because [tell your story].”

 “Now that I’ve shared my story with you, I have one question for you: Will you remember me when you vote this year?”

Watch an example from our National Grassroots Director, Clarissa Garcia:

(Please visit the site to view this video)

Once you’ve recorded your video on your phone, tablet, or camera, save it and upload it to Facebook. To upload your video to Facebook:

  1. Scroll to the top of your Facebook homepage where your status box is.
  2. Click Add Photos/Video.
  3. Click Upload Photos/Video.
  4. Select your video from the location you saved it to on your computer or mobile device.
  5. Write a post for your video.  Make sure to ‘tag’ your Representative and Senators and our American Heart Association: You’re the Cure page!  We recommend using this caption:

Hello, @[Enter your lawmakers names starting with an “@” symbol to tag their accounts], my name is [your name], and I’m an @[American Heart Association: You’re the Cure] advocate. Here’s why I support heart-healthy and stroke-smart public policies. Will you remember me when you vote this year?

(Note: Use our Legislator Search tool to identify your Representative and Senators.  You’ll need to “Like” their Facebook pages in order to ‘tag’ them with your video.)

If you’re unable to upload a video, there’s another easy way to introduce yourself to your legislators. Simply share your story by sending a personalized email today!

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to let us know at advocacydc@heart.org

We can’t wait to see your videos. Thanks for being the cure!

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Mixed News in Food Marketing to Youth Report

Whether it’s the flashiest toy, latest animated movie, or newest fashion craze, every parent or guardian can attest to the fact that their children are constantly bombarded with media advertising on television and the Internet. Another popular item to market to youth is food, such as cereals, sodas and restaurant meals. So, how much money are companies spending on marketing products to children and how healthy are these foods?

Before the end of 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report entitled A Review of Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents: Follow-Up Report which aimed to answer these questions. The study compared 2006 industry data to 2009 (the year where many companies decided to self-regulate and improve their food marketing practices). Has industry changed their advertising methods since 2006? And is the food they market any healthier? Major findings from the study are show below.

  • The industry spent $1.79 billion marketing to youth in 2009, which was a decrease from $2.1 billion in 2006. However, spending on newer media (online or on mobile devices) increased by 50%.
  • The FTC found “modest” improvements in the nutrition of food heavily marketed to children, including beverages, cereals and restaurant meals.
  • Marketed cereals had less sugar and more whole grain than in 2006, however; overall these cereals were the least nutritious.
  • Marketed drinks had slightly fewer calories in 2009 than in 2006.
  • Finally, meals advertised for children at “fast food” restaurants as “children’s meals” were better nutritionally than main entrees geared to children.

“The encouraging news is that we’re seeing promising signs that food companies are reformulating their products and marketing more nutritious foods to kids…But there is still room for improvement,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

Unfortunately, the FTC also found that the use of television characters, such as SpongeBob SquarePants, to promote unhealthy meals was commonplace in 2009. Recently, about 1,400 You’re the Cure Advocates urged Nickelodeon to stop advertising junk food to children with their popular characters. If you haven’t already sent a letter to the network, go ahead and tell them to stop marketing unhealthy foods to our children today!

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Study Finds Support for Menu Labeling

Many chains, including Starbucks, Panera and McDonald's, have already begun posting nutritional information on their menus, well ahead of the Affordable Care Act's mandate to do so next year.

Technomic conducted a survey of restaurant consumer attitudes and found that 65 percent favor such labeling in restaurants, with the strongest demand for listing of calories and sodium content.

Moreover, 70 percent of consumers say they care that chain restaurants disclose calorie and other nutritional information on their menus and 68 percent want nutritional information on all restaurant menus, not just chains. About the same percentage claim that having this information is helpful in making ordering decisions and believe it has a positive impact on consumer health and nutrition.

Read more about this study here.

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In the News: 50+ Health Groups Tell Nickelodeon to Cut Junk Food Advertising

Today, the AHA’s work to urge Nickelodeon to set strong nutrition standards for the foods marketed on its media outlets and by its shows' characters was featured in the Capitol Hill publication, The Hill. Check out the full article- Health groups tell Nickelodeon to stop hawking junk food. The AHA recently co-signed a letter with 50+ other health groups to the leadership of Nickelodeon and its parent company Viacom- and You’re the Cure advocates have sent over 2800 messages too.

With childhood obesity rates at record-high levels, the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) conducted a thorough review of the science and research on food marketing and concluded that food advertising affects children’s food choices, food purchase requests, diets, and health. In addition, the majority of foods marketed to children remain of poor nutritional quality.

Nickelodeon has a chance to follow The Walt Disney Company’s lead. Disney recently announced plans to apply nutrition standards to advertisements through child-directed television, radio, and online sites, and update its nutrition standards for foods that can be advertised to children.

Send a quick message urging Nickelodeon to puts kids’ health first and set responsible advertising standards.

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2012 You're the Cure Federal Recap

As we get ready to welcome the 113th Congress to Capitol Hill in January, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on all of the activity that took place on key heart and stroke issues this year.  In a tough economic environment, You’re the Cure advocates, like you, helped play critical defense to protect funding and programs that support our shared mission of building healthier lives.

We’re also proud to report that over 34,000 new grassroots advocates joined You’re the Cure this year, making our unified voice that much stronger in our communities, our states, and in the nation’s capital.  And what a noise we made!  Advocates took over 350,000 actions this year, from sending emails and making phone calls, to attending events and meeting with lawmakers, and more.   

Thank you for your hard work to influence Congress in 2012.  We’re excited to make even more progress in 2013!

2012 Action

What’s next?

Congress has yet to extend the Medicare Therapy Caps exceptions process, which is critical to ensuring stroke patients on Medicare are able to access and afford the physical, speech and occupational therapies they need. 

The coverage caps on rehabilitation services will kick in on January 1st, unless Congress passes an extension of the exceptions process by the end of the year.  Tell your legislators immediate action is needed for Medicare stroke patients now!

A key provision of the HEART for Women Act was signed into law earlier this year as part of a larger bill extending funding for the Food and Drug Administration! 

The new law requires the FDA to report on how new prescription drugs and medical devices work for women and minorities and to develop an action plan for improving participation in research.  Watch for the FDA’s report and action plan in the next 18 months.

The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act and key patient-protections continued to take effect.       

As implementation continues toward 2014, when several  key provisions will take effect, the AHA will continue to work to ensure the needs of heart & stroke patients are being met.  Learn more about what the law means for you. 

The fate of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) remains undecided, with the House and Senate yet to reach an agreement  on the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

As Congress’ work to pass a Farm Bill continues in the 113th Congress, so does our work to protect the FFVP and other nutrition programs from being cut or altered.  Take action in support of fruits and veggies in schools.  

As the Federal government works to negotiate a deal to address the current fiscal situation, funding for National Institutes of Health (NIH) research, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) prevention programs, and the Rural and Community AED program remains in jeopardy. 

If Congress and the President fail to stop automatic across-the-board funding cuts (aka: the ‘sequester’) by the end of the year, research and prevention programs will be cut by 8.2%.  Speak-up today to help prevent cuts!  The President will submit his 2014 budget to Congress in February, from which Congress will negotiate an appropriations bill.  Stay tuned for opportunities to act.

Programs that support walking amd biking in communities, like Safe Routes to School, took a big hit in the Transportation Bill passed and signed into law.  Loopholes now exist that allow states to use previously dedicated walking and biking funding for other transportation projects.   

Communities around the country are now hard at work to ensure that funding is provided for walking and biking projects as the law is implemented.  The Transportation Bill will need to be renewed in two years, presenting an opportunity to regain dedicated funding for bike and pedestrian initiatives.   

Big Tobacco’s efforts to get cigars exempted from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products bill did not succeed this year.

The bill could come up again in the 113th Congress.  We’ll need your help to continue to keep the pressure on Congress to reject efforts to exempt any tobacco products from the FDA’s regulation authority. 

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Fit, Healthy, & Ready to Learn: Updating School Health Policies

As states and districts mobilize to fight childhood obesity, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) is releasing updated information regarding physical activity and nutrition in schools in its Fit, Healthy, and Ready to Learn series of school health policy guides. 

“Research has repeatedly shown that healthy students have a greater chance at academic success than those who are not,” said NASBE Executive Director Jim Kohlmoos. “While families naturally have primary responsibility for their children’s well-being, schools also have a vital role to play, and effective programs begin with sound policy. Physical activity and healthy eating need to be looked at as complementary policy areas to best help students lead healthier, more active lives.”

The guides are rich with recent scientific data, analysis, examples of state and local best practices, and evidence-based model policies that can be adapted by schools, districts, and states. The guides also cover a wide array of topics, ranging from creating healthy eating environments and nutrition-related school services to what makes a quality physical education program, promoting active commuting to school and the importance of recess and other physical activity breaks. Take a look and then share this helpful resource with you state lawmakers and local school administrators today- www.nasbe.org/fhrtl

Publication of Fit, Healthy, and Ready to Learn was made possible with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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A New Initiative to Fight Obesity

The statistics are well known and sobering.  More than 23.5 million children and adolescents in the United States—nearly one in three young people—are overweight or obese. However, today the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) are teaming up with the ambitious goal of reversing the obesity epidemic by 2015.

Building upon AHA’s extensive advocacy capacity and experience, RWJF will provide the AHA with $8 million in initial funding to create and manage an advocacy initiative focused on changing local, state, and federal policies to help children and adolescents eat healthier foods and be more active.

“Individuals across the country recognize the severity of the childhood epidemic, and they are counting on their elected and appointed representatives to support efforts to help children lead healthier lives,” said Nancy Brown, AHA CEO. “We’re excited to work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to organize and build support for those policy efforts so the country can make lasting change.”

Under the new initiative, RWJF and AHA will focus on policy interventions to advance six priorities that research shows are likely to have the greatest impact on childhood obesity. Those priorities include:

 
• improving the nutritional quality of snack foods and beverages in schools;
• reducing consumption of sugary beverages; and
• protecting children from unhealthy food and beverage marketing.
• increasing access to affordable healthy foods;
• increasing access to parks, playgrounds, walking paths, bike lanes and other opportunities to be physically active; and
• helping schools and youth-serving programs increase children’s physical activity levels.

“As a country, we’re gaining a better sense of what changes work, and now it’s time to make those changes in every community. I’m confident this new collaboration with the American Heart Association will help us do just that," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO.

For more information and specifics about this ambitious plan, please read the full press release.

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A Need for More Physical Education Highlighted in Report

RESTON, VA, November 13, 2012 – The 2012 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Education in the USA, released by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Heart Association, finds that while 74.5 percent of states mandate physical education in elementary through high school, most still fail to require a specific amount of instructional time and nearly half allow exemptions, waivers and/or substitutions. These “loopholes” reduce the effectiveness of policy efforts to ensure the quality of physical education currently taught in the nation’s schools.

  “While other studies demonstrate the importance of quality physical education in helping students learn the necessary skills, knowledge and experiences they need to be physically active for a lifetime, the Shape of the Nation Report has been disclosing the inadequacies of physical education policies in this country since 1987,” said NASPE President Mary Jo Sariscsany, associate professor, California State University, Northridge. “It is time to eliminate the ‘loopholes.’ We urge parents to join our efforts to be more proactive and effective advocates for physical education to ensure that their children’s schools and school districts are complying with required state physical education policies. Every school should implement the recommendations outlined in this report.” 

 “The fact that kids are being deprived of physical education in school is unacceptable, especially in a nation suffering from a childhood obesity epidemic,” said Nancy Brown, American Heart Association CEO. “Making physical activity a part of the daily routine is critical to saving the next generation of Americans from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious problems.”

The report found that the majority of states mandate that students take physical education (43 states for elementary, 41 states for middle, and 44 states for high school). However, gaps exist in over half of these states. Thirty-three states permit schools and school districts to allow students to substitute other activities for their required physical education credit. Twenty-eight states allow schools or school districts to grant exemptions/waivers for physical education. Other key findings include:

  • Only six states (Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York and Vermont) require physical education in every grade, K-12.
  • Forty nine states plus the District of Columbia have their own state standards for physical education; only Iowa has not adopted state standards.
  • Only 26 states (51 percent) require some form of student assessment in physical education.
  • Only thirty states (59 percent) allow required physical education credits to be earned through online physical education courses.
  • Compared to 2010, twice as many states (28 vs. 14) require physical education grades to be included in students’ grade point averages.
  • Only fourteen states (27 percent) require schools/school districts to perform fitness assessments.
  • Only 11 states (22 percent) prohibit the practice of withholding physical activity, including recess, as punishment and prohibit the use of physical activity as punishment for inappropriate behavior or for disciplinary reasons.

NASPE and the American Heart Association recommend that schools provide 150 minutes per week/30 minutes per day of instructional physical education for elementary school children, and 225 minutes per week/45 minutes per day for middle and high school students for the entire school year. Currently, no states follow these nationally recommended guidelines at all levels. The complete list of physical education program recommendations is included in the full report.

In addition to pushing for mandatory physical education in all K-12 schools in the United States, the two associations encourage parents to be more proactive in advocating for school districts and communities to develop and promote the use of safe, well-maintained and close-to-home sidewalks, bike paths, trails, and facilities for physical activity and sport participation. More importantly, parents and other adult role models need to set good examples by being active themselves. 
 
The Shape of the Nation Report, which surveys physical education coordinators in all 50 state education agencies and the District of Columbia, raises awareness and provides data for an ongoing evaluation of the progress made and challenges that remain in physical education policies.  This year’s Shape of the Nation report includes new elements that address the areas of school physical activity requirements such as recess, classroom physical activity breaks, the use of physical activity as punishment, support for the Safe Routes to School program and local school wellness policies. 
 
NASPE provides free online Tools for Observing Quality Physical Education.  For ideas on increasing physical activity opportunities in your community, visit www.LetsMoveInSchool.org

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Ask Nickelodeon to Stop Advertising Junk Food to Kids

Take a guess… On average, how many advertisements for food do kids under the age of 12 see each day?

A) 3

B) 7

C) 10

D) 13

If you guessed D, you are correct- and the majority of those ads are for unhealthy foods and beverages.  $2 billion per year is spent advertising food to children and studies have shown these aggressive marketing tactics are contributing to our nation’s childhood obesity epidemic.    

But what if the top child-directed media companies in the U.S. held advertisers to a higher standard, in the best interest of our kids?  This year, the Walt Disney Company announced it will no longer accept advertisements for junk food on its child-directed television, radio, and online sites.  And we need your help to ask Nickelodeon to follow Disney’s lead.   

Send a quick message to Nickelodeon’s leadership today, urging them to stand-up for a healthier generation by setting strong nutrition standards for advertisers. 

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We Need More PE!

One important way to stop this rise in obesity and chronic disease in our children is by establishing lifelong physical activity habits with strong physical education (PE) programs and regular physical activity opportunities throughout the day in our nation’s schools.  That’s why the AHA strongly advocates for protecting and enhancing PE programs at the state and federal levels. 

Check out this great video from SPARK - a research-based, public health organization of the San Diego State University Research Foundation- that helps highlight why PE matters!

(Please visit the site to view this video)

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Study Shows Support for New School Lunch Standards

A new survey from The California Endowment found that the new national school meal standards, which were implemented this fall, are being well received by students and parents in California.  Overwhelmingly, both parents (91%) and students (82%) support the changes to school nutrition standards- and most students believe that school lunches are better than they have been in the past.  Read the New American Media article about the results.

The new guidelines, established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) using the latest nutrition science and recommendations from the Institutes of Medicine, include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in school lunches, while limiting sodium and trans fats. 

Do you support these changes?  How is your school district working to provide healthier options to students? 

Visit the USDA’s website for helpful toolkits for patents, students, and educators that offer information about the changes and ideas for helping make the transition a smooth one. 

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Too Much Salt is Putting Our Children’s Health at Risk

Dallas, Texas, Sept. 17, 2012- American Heart Association says New CDC Study Illustrates Need to Limit Sodium in Foods

The American Heart Association says a new study examining the connection between sodium intake and the blood pressure in U.S. children and teens points to the urgent need to limit salt in foods consumed by young people.

The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the journal Pediatrics, found that kids between the ages of 8 and 18 were eating an average of 3,387 milligrams a day of sodium. That’s nearly the same amount consumed by adults and more than double the 1,500 daily milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association.

“It’s very disturbing that this nation’s children and teens consume too much salt in their diets at school and home. High blood pressure, once viewed as an adult illness is now affecting more young people because of high sodium diets and increasing obesity,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “While new nutrition standards for school meals are helping, progress is slow.  This study strongly underscores the need to move faster because our kids are on an early path to heart attacks and strokes.”

Too much sodium is linked to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke and several other serious health problems.  High blood pressure is one of several diseases that once appeared mainly in adults but has become much more common in youths during our childhood obesity epidemic.

The CDC study found that the risk for high blood pressure among overweight and obese youths rose 74 percent for every 1,000 milligrams of increased sodium intake per day. That compared to only a 6 percent increase among normal-weight young people. 

More than 75 percent of sodium in the diets of Americans comes from processed and restaurant foods, as well as beverages. So much sodium in the food supply leaves many youths with little control over how much they consume.

“The salt we all eat daily is becoming a major public health issue and current approaches to sodium reduction in the U.S. have not been effective,” Brown said. “We must make the reduction of sodium a national priority.”

The American Heart Association recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture institute strong sodium targets in schools and apply new sodium limits sooner than what is currently required.  The association also has also called on the Food and Drug Administration to decrease the Daily Value for sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day and to set mandatory limits on the sodium content of foods.

 

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AHA Applauds New Physical Fitness Test

Washington D.C. - Just in time for the new school year, this new physical fitness test will help improve our children's health. See the AHA's statement below from CEO Nancy Brown.

“The new school fitness program launched today by The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and other organizations is a positive step forward in the battle to promote children’s health and improve the quality of physical education in the United States.

This assessment will be a great way to evaluate the health impact of physical education programs in schools and allow for a standardized comparison of fitness levels of children across the country. The information collected can be used to inform course curriculum development, children’s physical activity programming and policy change. In addition, the data will be a key resource in developing future strategies to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic, reduce children’s risk factors for heart disease and promote daily physical education in schools.

A high-quality physical education program enhances the physical, mental, social and emotional development of every child, and it incorporates fitness education and assessment to help children understand, improve, and maintain their physical well-being.

Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last few decades. Almost 20 percent of young Americans are currently considered obese and are at a greater their risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension and other life-threatening illnesses.

Research shows that healthy, more physically fit children learn more effectively, are higher academic achievers, have better attendance and are better behaved in school.

The American Heart Association fully supports this effort, and we urge all states and school districts to integrate this fitness assessment into their physical education programs.”

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There’s a food fight in Congress!

Believe it or not, there’s a heated debate in Congress right now over fresh fruits and vegetables in schools. And we need you to help us be the voice of reason.

Will you take a moment to tell your legislators why providing kids with access to fresh fruits and vegetables during the school day is important to their health and nutrition education?

It’s hard to imagine why some Members of Congress would want to change the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which effectively:

Provides more than 3 million elementary school students in over 7,000 schools in lower income areas across the country with a fresh fruit of vegetable snack every day at school.

Exposes children to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that they may not otherwise have access to.

Increases kids’ daily consumption of fresh produce, which is critical to a healthy diet, without increasing their average intake of calories.

Supports local farmers and grocers who help supply the schools with fresh fruits and vegetables.

However, despite this success, some lawmakers have offered proposals to the Farm Bill that would cut funding for the program by 1/3 and allow other types of snacks to be served, weakening the integrity of the program, as outlined in an article on Education Week’s blog today.

We can’t allow this to happen. Send a quick email of support today to help defend the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program!

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AHA CEO Expresses Disappointment with Transportation Bill

Washington, D.C. – American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following statement today on the latest version of the transportation legislation approved by Congress last week:

“The transportation legislation passed by Congress today jeopardizes the safety and health of kids all across America.

Under this current bill, funding for biking and walking projects would be cut by 60 to 70 percent. Dedicated federal support would be eliminated for Safe Routes to Schools, a popular and cost-effective program that makes walking and biking to school safer. Additionally states would be allowed to allocate this funding for other purposes, which would weaken local control.

Since 1980, the number of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese has grown to nearly one out of three. Because of the numerous chronic diseases associated with obesity, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, today’s children are on a path to becoming the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

The Safe Routes to School program can help reverse this terrible trend by bolstering physical activity to keep our kids healthy. Research indicates that children who walk or bike to school are not only more active and maintain a healthier weight, they also perform better in school and have less truancy and disciplinary problems.

In a recent report, the Institute of Medicine made five recommendations for preventing and solving the nation’s obesity crisis. The first recommendation is to integrate physical activity into people’s daily lives by providing opportunities to walk and bike. This aligns with the American Heart Association’s recommendations of regular physical activity to help everyone live a heart-healthy life.

The American Heart Association is disappointed that the current transportation legislation cuts dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School, along with the funding for walking and biking paths around the country. These funds are essential to tackling the nation’s obesity problem and supporting physical activity for America’s children.”

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Help Save the Fresh Fruit and Veggie Program for Our Kids

Do you know what jicama is? Or how pineapples grow? If you ask a student who participates in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), chances are they’ll be able to tell you. This successful federal program provides daily fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to more than 3 million elementary students, increasing their intake of fresh produce and providing important nutrition education.

However, despite the effectiveness of the FFVP and its popularity among students, teachers, food service staff, administrators, and parents alike, the program faces significant threats in the U.S. House of Representatives as Congress works to pass the 2012 Farm Bill. Proposals include slashing funding for the program by 1/3 and allowing other types of snacks to be served through the program.

With votes planned soon, we must speak-up now to urge the House to follow the Senate’s lead and protect the funding and integrity of the FFVP for our kids’ health!

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Improving a la carte and vending machine nutrition can help student waistlines and school bottom lines

Earlier this year the USDA worked to improve nutrition standards for lunches in official school meal programs, but what about those vending and a la carte items?

After improving food served in school lunch programs, the USDA is currently focusing their attention on those other items or “competitive foods.” But will this help our children’s nutrition and the schools finances? According to a recent study, the answer is ‘yes’ to both.

A new health impact assessment commissioned by the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project and the Health Impact Project found that updating standards on competitive foods will help our kids’ waistlines and our schools bottom lines.

According to the director of the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project, Jessica Donze Black, “The evidence is clear and compelling. Implementing strong national nutrition standards to make the snacks and beverages our children consume healthier is something that schools and districts can afford. The USDA should do all it can to finalize and help implement strong standards.”

Want more information on the study? Click here to read the study or watch the video below!

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You’re the Cure Advocates Talk Fresh Fruits and Vegetables on Capitol Hill

On Wednesday May 17, You’re the Cure advocates from six key states (CO, KS, MN, NE, OR, and TX) flew to Washington D.C. to urge their Members of Congress protect the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP). The FFVP provides snacks of fresh fruit and vegetables to elementary school students in low-income schools across the country, increasing access to and consumption of fresh produce. As Congress reauthorizes the 2012 Farm Bill, the program faces threats.

The seven advocates attended an afternoon of issue training and legislative meeting practice to prepare them for their day on Capitol Hill, where they met with Senators, Representatives, and staff.

Additionally advocates participated in a congressional briefing, The Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program: A Win for Agriculture, Children, Schools, Families and Public Health, where they shared firsthand experience with implementing the program in their schools.

Annette Derouin, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Willmar Public Schools in Willmar, MN, noted how the FFVP is transforming her elementary students into fruit and vegetable lovers, recalling how the students applaud and yell out “thank you” when the fresh fruit and vegetable snacks are delivered to their classrooms every day. Rex Bruce, Superintendent of Sublette School District in Sublette, Kansas, gave evidence for how the FFVP is improving child nutrition, academic performance and the local economy. Sublette elementary schools purchase $30,000 of fresh fruits and vegetables for the FFVP from their local supermarket each year, helping that supermarket stay in the community.

Jessie Coffey, FFVP Coordinator for Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Gitta Grether-Sweeney, Director of Nutrition Services for Portland Public Schools in Portland, Oregon, told the House and Senate audience that their FFVP reaches 10,000 and 9,000 low-income elementary students every day, respectively. Coffey and Grether-Sweeny explained that the demand for FFVP is greater than the available funding at both the district and state level.

The event was co-hosted by the American Heart Association and United Fresh Produce.

Check out the You’re the Cure Facebook page for more pictures of the event!

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Transportation Secretary Promotes Safe Routes to School

On Friday, April 27th, the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood walked to school with his grandchildren. Why is this news? Because Secretary LaHood was also joined by other community members and children promoting the Safe Routes to School program in Indiana.

“We know that, when kids walk or bike to school, they get energized for their school day and they bring neighborhoods together”, said LaHood.

Indianapolis Mayor, Greg Ballard, and Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner, Mike Cline, joined LaHood in this walk to bring awareness to Safe Routes to School, according to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation blog.

“Safe Routes programs are efforts by parents, schools, community leaders, and local, state, and federal governments to improve the health and well-being of children by enabling and encouraging them to walk and bicycle to school,” said LaHood.

The American Heart Association is also committed to the Safe Routes to School Program. In early March, over a dozen AHA volunteers took to Capitol Hill to urge their lawmakers to protect the program.

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Advocate Spotlight! Missouri Doctor Speaks-Up for Safe Routes to School on Capitol Hill

Dr. Jim Blaine of Springfield, MO, knows the importance of prevention. As the Medical Director of the Ozark Technical Community College Health & Wellness Clinic, he has seen cardiovascular events decrease over the last four years by helping patients focus on diet, exercise, and taking the proper medication to manage heart disease and stroke risk factors. And it is the theme of prevention that helped him make a strong case for the Safe Route to School program when he came to Washington, DC on March 7th.

With funding threats to the Safe Routes to School program looming, Dr. Blaine and 16 fellow advocates brought their message about the need for safe, walk-able and bike-able communities from their hometowns to the halls of Congress. Armed with letters of support from local business, education, and government leaders, Dr. Blaine met with Senator Roy Blunt and Representative Billy Long, as well as staff from Senator Claire McCaskill’s office.

“This is a very worthwhile project and, thanks to the AHA, we had an enjoyable and, hopefully, effective DC experience,” said Dr. Blaine.

On March 29th, both the House and the Senate passed a 90 extension of the current transportation bill, giving Members until June 30th to reach an agreement. The American Heart Association will continue to advocate for Safe Routes to School funding to be included in the final package.

Read Dr. Blaine’s interview with his local paper about advocating for Safe Route to School.

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State Spotlight! New AZ Law Helps Increase Access to Recreational Facilities

Thanks to a new law in Arizona, fields, courts, and playgrounds at schools will soon be more accessible to communities. On March 13th, Governor Jan Brewer signed a “shared use” bill that limits the liability of schools if they open their grounds during non-instructional hours for recreational use. The new law goes into effect on June 15, 2012 and is critical to providing the public with increased opportunities for physical activity.

This important victory couldn’t have happened without You’re the Cure advocates. They flooded state lawmakers with hundreds of messages of support for the bill and took advantage of face-to-face time with lawmakers and staff at the Arizona State Legislative Reception to stress how important shared use is to building healthier communities. Plus, the state’s You’re the Cure Leadership Committee helped close the loop by making personal phone calls to thank the Governor after the bill became law.

As other states across the country work to pass similar shared use legislation, this win sets a positive example. Congratulations Arizona!

Interested in learning more about “shared use” policy? Visit www.unlockpossibilities.org today to download the Playing Smart toolkit, produced through a partnership between KaBOOM! and the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Children Obesity, a project of Public Health Law & Policy.

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AHA Advocates Urge Congress to Protect Safe Routes to School

Today, more than a dozen advocates from across the country flew in to Washington D.C. to meet with their Representatives and Senators and urge them to include Safe Routes to School program funding in the pending transportation bill. The timing of these visits could not have been more crucial, as both the House and Senate are urgently working on passing their own versions of the legislation.

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Caution: Walking to school may be hazardous to your health

Today’s a big day in our push to help save Safe Routes to School! We’re blitzing Congress with face-to-face visits by advocates and we’re running an ad in Politico to urge our nation’s legislators to “give America’s kids the right of way to a healthy life” by preserving the program in the federal transportation bill. But we need your help to make sure EVERY Member of Congress gets the message.

It’s quick and easy to be part of the action! Simply…

The fate of Safe Routes to School, which helps communities build safe sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike paths that allow kids to be more physically active, is still up in the air. But thanks to your action, we are making progress. Just last week, the Senate included a provision in its transportation bill that would ensure that local governments and school systems are able to access critical funds to make communities safer for bicycling and walking. But our work is far from over until a final bill is passed and signed.

Thank you for doing your part to give America’s kids the right of way to a healthy life!

**Don’t have a fax machine? No problem! You can call the Capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) to be connected to your legislators’ offices. Don’t forget to tell them who you are, where you are from, and that you are counting on Congress to preserve funding for Safe Routes to School in the transportation bill.

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USDA Releases New School Meal Nutrition Standards

Washington, D.C. — American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following statement on the release of the final nutrition standards for school meals announced today by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:

“For the first time in a generation, America’s children will have better choices when they get in line at their school cafeterias.

The new U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition standards are a huge win for kids’ health that will greatly improve the selection of foods and beverages sold in schools. When put into place across the country, these guidelines will play a critical role in helping young Americans maintain a healthy weight, and ensure their lives are free of heart disease and stroke.

Unfortunately, this victory is not yet complete. The American Heart Association was extremely disappointed that recent congressional interference with the USDA standards will allow schools to keep french fries and pizza on the daily menu. In addition, the association is concerned that children are going to continue to consume too much salt because the timeline to apply sodium standards in school meals is lengthy.

The association looks forward to working with the USDA, state legislatures and departments of education, and local schools districts to apply — and improve — the new nutrition standards.”

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Health and Human Services Year in Review

Check out this video below from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that recaps 2011. In this video, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks about the Million Hearts Campaign, which the American Heart Association is a proud member. The Campaign aims to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years.

Click to see the video!

 

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Obesity is weighing heavily on the hearts of Americans. 72 million adults are overweight or obese- and childhood obesity is affecting 32% of kids. With obesity as a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke, this epidemic is a serious public health issue that must be addressed. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is working to help all Americans regain control of their health by advocating for:

Improved Nutrition & Physical Education in Schools

Schools have an important role to play in reinforcing healthy lifestyle habits for kids. We support updated nutrition standards for school meals and competitive foods, such as vending machines & a la carte lines, sold in schools to include more fruits and vegetables, less sodium and trans fats, more whole grains, and low fat and fat free milk. Further, we support policy that requires all K-12 students to receive regular PE instruction (150 min/week for elementary students, 225 min/week for middle and high school students). 

Healthier Food Options & Physical Activity Promotion in Communities

The environments where we all live, work, learn, and play greatly impact our ability to maintain healthier lifestyles. That’s why the AHA/ASA supports policies that help Americans make healthier diet choices, such as menu-labeling in restaurants and reducing trans fats and sodium in the food supply. And to help get more people moving, the AHA/ASA supports community planning that includes bike paths, sidewalks, and crosswalks, as well as shared use agreements to make school facilities more accessible to the whole community. 

Learn more about these issues below and join us in taking action for healthier lives and healthier communities.

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Facts and Figures

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    FIT Kids Act Bill Summary

    Learn about the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act currently being considered by Congress.  The bill aims to strengthen physical education programs in our nation's schools.   

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    FIT Kids Act Letter of Support

    In June 2013, 70 organizations sent a letter of support for the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids to the bill's sponsors, Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) and Representative Aaron Schock (R-IL).  

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    Facts: January 2013 AHA Policy Report

    Find all of AHA's Policy Position statements on various issues with this "at-a-glance" report entitled the Policy Report.

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    Facts: Trans Fats in the U.S. Diet

    Get the facts about eliminating trans fats from schools, restaurants, and workplaces.

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    Facts: Sodium in the U.S. Diet

    Get the facts about the sodium in our food supply and its impact on our cardiovascular health.

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    Facts: Menu Labeling

    Get the facts about menu labeling and its impact on consumers' dietary choices. 

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    Facts: Diet & CVD Risk

    Get the facts about nutrition policies to improve diets and reduce CVD risk

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    Facts: Nutrition in Schools

    Get the facts about nutrition in schools & the policy solutions to provide healthier options.

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    Facts: Active Living & the Built Environment

    Get the facts about the role of our physical environment in promoting physical activity.

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    Facts: Shared Use Agreement

    Get the facts about shared use agreements between schools & communities to increase opportunities for physical activity

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    Facts: Physical Education in Schools

    Get the facts about improving physical education in schools to help address childhood obesity. 

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Campaign Resources

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    Presentation: Communicating with Congress

    View the slides from the recent presentation entitled Communicating with Congress: How to turn a 10-Minute Meeting with a Legislator into a Life-Long Relationship

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Grassroots Toolkit

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    You're the Cure Sign-Up Form - Obesity Prevention

    Recruit others to join you as a You’re the Cure advocate using this printable sign-up form.

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    You're the Cure Advocate Guide

    Use this guide to learn about more ways you can get involved as a You’re the Cure advocate.

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