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On February 3, the Advanced Placement Government class from Eastlake High School in Sammamish, WA traveled to Olympia to join the American Heart Association / American Stroke Association for its 2015 Lobby Day. Eastlake’s AP students joined other advocates including heart and stroke survivors, board members, physicians, and parents to advocate for heart-health policies. It was particularly impactful to have students advocating for funding for youth tobacco prevention and Safe Routes to School at this year’s Lobby Day.

The students began their day with a rally along Capitol Blvd. waving signs to build awareness for the need for increased funding for Safe Routes to School. With just one in four projects currently funded, the students went to work to ensure students across the state can safely walk and bike to school.

The students worked hard to prepare for this day of advocacy. Their preparation showed in special meetings with their district’s Senator, Andy Hill and with Representative Marcus Riccelli, who sponsors the AHA-supported bill to screen all newborns for critical congenital heart disease.              

Legislators, staff and volunteers all noted the students’ professionalism and enthusiasm. These youth advocates made a great impression on the decision makers who have the power to improve health for youth across Washington.

Gail Mates, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate

I spent most of my life watching heart disease strike family members. Both grandfathers died of heart attacks, my father suffered from several and even my mother had an enlarged heart and hypertension that made her susceptible. When my father had a stroke, I witnessed firsthand the depression and fear that he felt.  It was heart wrenching to watch.  

In my own life, health issues were mounting. High cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, sleep apnea, esophagus surgery and a metabolic syndrome were just a few of the hurdles I faced.   I was digging my grave with a knife and fork!
 
I knew my life was going downhill, but nurturing was something I did for others, not myself. It wasn’t until my daughter pled with me to make a change that I finally listened.  My daughter told me through tears that I was killing myself and that she wanted me to be here for her children.  

Diet was the first area I tackled. I began eating ‘live’ foods, shopping on the outside of the grocery store instead of the inner aisles of canned and boxed foods. Exercise came slower, but it was the pace I wanted to set because I knew that doing too much, too soon would backfire. I started with 5 minutes of exercise a week and was soon able to fulfill my dream of completing a 5k run. 

Almost 60 pounds lighter, I am changing my heart every step of the way. My diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, sleep apnea, and esophagus are all great now!   I don’t make excuses; I just do what I need to do.  If it’s snowing outside and I can't get to the gym, I simply walk around my living room and bedroom.  If you can make it easy, you can find a way.

There’s one thing that keeps me going – the smile on my daughter’s face.   I plan to be here for a long long time. 

This generation of kids is the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Currently, 29% of Vermont's children are overweight or obese.

Dr. Niels Giddins is a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and a board member for the American Heart Association who wants to change that.  He has joined us in the fight for a two cent per ounce excise tax on sugary drinks in an effort to reduce obesity in Vermont.

You'll hear his voice on Vermont airwaves and see him in local papers. And, he spoke to legislators at the American Heart Association's legislative reception this month.

Here's a portion of his statement from that event:

Simply put, most Vermont adults are overweight or obese, and our youth are catching up fast.  The adverse effects on their health are undeniable. Not only are the lengths and quality of their lives compromised, our health system is compromised due to the increasing amounts of expensive care needed to treat the various problems that result — such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

We counsel our patients that the biggest factor in weight control is the energy or calories taken IN.  What we eat and drink. Obviously the energy or calories that we expend can help balance things out, but the heart of the problem if you will is that when you take in more than is expended your weight goes up.  And if the calories are just plain carbs, with no other nutritional value, the imbalance is just that much worse.

It is with this simple equation that this tax can make the most impact.  Anything to reduce the empty calories consumed by Vermonters will make a difference.  Healthy alternatives abound and become more appealing if relatively cheaper.  This includes milk that supports our own dairy industry, and juices that supply needed fruit and vegetable-derived nutrients.  Let's not forget just plain water - one of the natural resources that many in this state have worked diligently to protect.  Our municipalities provide some of highest quality drinking water anywhere– freely available right out of the tap.

Make no mistake, this is not a ban on sugary drinks.  They're still going to be available, but in return for their negative impact on our health, this tax can provide much needed funds for our stressed healthcare system.

Finally, a word to business owners that perhaps understandably have had concerns about the impact of this tax on their livelihood.  I'd like to think that certain pharmacies that have stopped selling tobacco products have done so NOT to lose money.  The right decision helps everyone.  Healthy sells as well.  

Let’s do this.  

Learn more about the impacts of sugary drinks on obesity and our efforts to pass a tax on sugary drinks at our coalition site: www.healthiervt.org.