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Find the Heart Walk Near You

The Heart Walk is the American Heart Association’s premier community event, helping to save lives from heart disease and stroke. More than 300 walks across America raise funds to support valuable health research, education and advocacy programs of the American Heart Association in every state. Our You’re the Cure advocacy movement – and our public policy successes along the way – are all made possible by the funds raised by the Heart Walk. Whether it’s CPR laws passed to train the next generation of lifesavers or policy to regulate tobacco products and prevent youth smoking,  together we are building a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The Heart Walk is truly a community event, celebrating survivors, living healthy, and being physically active. We hope you’ll join us and visit the site today. If there is not a walk listed in your area soon,  it may be coming in the spring season or you can join a virtual event. And don’t forget to connect with your local advocacy staff and ask about your local Heart Walk day-of You’re the Cure plans - they may need your help spreading the word. Thanks for all you do, and happy Heart Walk season.

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Together Baton Rouge Fights Health Disparity in Capital City

Guest Blogger: Ashley Hebert Bridges, Government Relations Director

If you’ve heard of Together Baton Rouge, you may know the organization to be the largest and most diverse citizens’ organization in the history of the city. This group of minds has successfully turned community organizing across class and racial lines to make impactful change in the capital city. Louisiana is leading the charge in the food access movement in the South and we have Together Baton Rouge to thank for it.

One major issue the group faces daily are the increasing amount of legislation and policies that further impact the health disparity of not only Baton Rouge, but Louisiana as a whole. According to a 2014 USDA report, 1.3 million Louisiana residents lack access to grocery stores causing a food desert in many parts of the state. The USDA defines a food desert as a “low income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. “Low income” is defined as a census tract with at least 20 percent of the residents below poverty, or median family income below 80 percent of the area’s median family income. While many poorer neighborhoods are lined with convenient or corner stores that sell some groceries, those stores offer less healthful or fresh options and often cost 7 to 25 percent more. Milk, for example, is marked up as much as 16 percent in corner stores compared to full-service groceries. Residents who are the least able to afford groceries are paying more for them.

A Car Without Gas

Together Baton Rouge began the fight to address these issues in as early as 2009 by working with legislators to pass the strongly bipartisan Healthy Food Retail Act. The statute was to provide for the administration a financing program to stimulate investment in healthy food retail outlets in underserved areas of Louisiana, but there was no appropriation for the program that legislation session after the governor removed $400,000 for the program from the state’s budget.

Sustained Advocacy Makes a Difference

By continuing to work with coalition partners, Together Baton Rouge embarked on a multi-year campaign to fund the healthy food retail act, and thereby began to remedy the food desert problem that exists throughout Louisiana. Collaboration between other civic groups, nonprofits, and legislators finally lead to a victory this summer. On June 27, 2016 Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed the budget bill that appropriated $1 million in funding for the state to implement the Act.

With funding support from Voices for Healthy Kids, the coalition employed a series of highly-successful civic academy engagements, which combined statistics and facts with real-life experiences to educate the public and policymakers alike as to the challenges associated with low food access, and the opportunities healthy foods financing would create. One of the key points made in the engagements was how funding the Healthy Food Retail Act would provide significant opportunities for Louisiana’s farmers.

Food access is one of the six focus areas for Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association. Voices for Healthy Kids supported the efforts in Louisiana to increase access to healthy, affordable foods. For more information, visit www.voicesforhealthykids.org.

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Louisiana Advocacy Committee Meeting Year-End Wrap-up

On June 2, 2016 the Louisiana Advocacy Committee held its fourth quarter meeting at the Baton Rouge office. The group was introduced to Ashley Bridges, State Government Relations Director, as she reported on the organization’s state and local public policy agenda: Louisiana Medicaid expansion, healthy vending procurement in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and Smoke-free East Baton Rouge. Katherine Bryant, Sr. Government Relations Director of Mississippi, also updated the committee on the tobacco tax effort. Julie Howell, Grassroots Director, led an elevator speech training for the committee members.

After questions and open dialogue on future campaign plans and committee membership, the present members were thanked for their service and received certificates of appreciation.

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New Orleans Expands Access to Healthy Foods

The City of New Orleans took another step towards reaching their goal of becoming a healthier city by the city’s 300th anniversary in 2018!

Recently, the City adopted a policy that will expand healthy food and beverage choices on city property. Now, all food and beverages provided by the City through meetings, events, cafeterias, vending machines, etc., will meet national nutrition standards. That means more whole grains, lower sodium options and few sugary drinks that are Fit NOLA approved.

We applaud the City of New Orleans for making the healthy choice the easy choice. A special thank you to the American Heart Association’s Metro New Orleans Board for working with city leaders and local vendors to provide education and tools to help implement the policy.

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Will you help influence scientific research?

We need to hear from consumers like you as the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) partner together on the future of research. Your experience could lead to the next research study to improve heart disease and stroke treatment.

As an advocate we’ve asked you to speak out for increased funding for medical research and you’ve answered by contacting lawmakers and sharing your personal stories as survivors, caregivers, and loved ones touched by heart and stroke disease. Now we invite you to share your experience, the decisions made in determining your or your loved one’s treatment plans and the factors that influenced those decisions. If we better understand your experience it can help guide the research that will lead to better care tailored to the specific needs of patients.

If you’ve had a heart attack, suffered a stroke, or you know a loved one who has, your unique understanding could help guide research to solve un-met care challenges faced by individuals like you and improve heart and stroke treatment.

Here are the details:

  • We are focused on un-met challenges faced by patients and caregivers like you. 
  • To join this challenge, you’ll be asked to provide a written submission of your first-hand experience after a heart disease or stroke event.
  • The story and description of the concerns you faced and the decisions you made should be personal and not a general case.
  • A team of scientific professionals and patient representatives with expertise in heart disease and stroke will review your story. Learning more about issues and concerns important to your decision-making can help them improve experiences and outcomes for patients in the future.
  • If your submission is chosen, you could win $1,000 and possibly help shape the future of cardiovascular research.
  • All submissions must be received by June 8, 2016.

Please take this important challenge and share your insights. Your story matters. Take the challenge today!

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Louisiana Medicaid Expansion Update

Guest Blogger: Ashley H. Bridges, Government Relations Director, Louisiana

Medicaid is the nation’s health insurance program for low-income Americans and is a vitally important part of our health care system. It covers many of the nation’s poorest and sickest patients and provided a critical financing mechanism for the health care services these individuals receive – including care related to cardiovascular disease (CVD). In fact, more than 16 million adults with Medicaid coverage (53 percent) have a history of CVD.[1]

Louisiana’s mandated Medicaid expansion would change eligibility requirements to extend health coverage to Louisianans aged 19-64 with household incomes less than $16,105 (individual) or $32,913 (family of four) who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. The majority of Louisianans who are eligible for expansion are workers – about 70 percent of individuals covered under this expansion are full-time employees earning at or around minimum wage. Many others are students as estimated by the 2014 American Community Survey (U.S. Census Bureau).

Medicaid and CVD

Medicaid provides an important safety net for approximately one-fifth of all Americans with CVD. A recent analysis of 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data shows that 53% of all adults with Medicaid coverage – more than 16 million individuals – have a history of some type of cardiovascular illness. This grows to nearly 91 percent of all individuals with Medicaid coverage who are over age 65.

Individuals with Medicaid coverage are more likely to have cardiovascular conditions than those who have other types of health insurance coverage. For example, low-income adults over age 65 with

Medicaid coverage are more likely to have a history of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke than seniors with only Medicare coverage. Similarly, individuals ages 18 to 64 with Medicaid coverage are more likely to have a history of high blood pressure, angina, heart attack, stroke or coronary heart disease than individuals with private health insurance. These findings are consistent with the overall trend that individuals with Medicaid are generally sicker and have poorer health status than other Americans, highlighting how critical this coverage is for low-income Americans with CVD.

A Win-Win for Louisiana

The Medicaid expansion is projected to bring an estimated $1.8 billion in increased economic activity to the state and create 15,600 new jobs and investing in a more productive workforce. The economic growth will generate approximately $120 million in new tax revenue per year.[2]

When people get insurance, they are more likely to have a regular primary care doctor and receive routine preventive care. The doctor-patient relationship is important. People with insurance are able to afford needed medications and can better control chronic conditions like diabetes. Women in states that are expanding Medicaid are more likely to get mammograms. Medicaid expansion saves lives.

Medicaid expansion is going to help fix the state deficit. The Department of Health and Hospitals estimates expanding Medicaid will save Louisiana in excess of $100 million in FY 2017 and almost $400 million over the next five years.

The American Heart Association understands the significant budget challenges faced by both federal and state governments. However, the organization supports efforts to expand Medicaid to low-income adults and opposes proposals that would reduce access to meaningful, affordable health care coverage for individuals with CVD. These include policies that cause states to scale back eligibility, cut benefits, or significantly increase cost sharing for Medicaid beneficiaries.


[1] Leighton Ku and Christine Ferguson. Medicaid Works: A Review of How Public Insurance Protects the Health and Finances of Low-income Families and Individuals. Forthcoming, First Focus and George Washington University.

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The Latest News on #SmokefreeEBR

On April 13, 2016, the East Baton Rouge Metro council failed to pass the proposed smoke-free ordinance, denying more than 3,000 workers the right to breathe clean air and leaving Baton Rouge as one of the largest cities in the country without a smoke-free ordinance that includes all workplaces and public places, including bars and casinos. The 2½-hour debate about the pros and cons of banning smoking at casinos and bars culminated with the Metro Council splitting the vote 6-6. Nearly 40 people addressed the council about the issue, imploring the council members to think about health, morality, fiscal responsibility and the business climate of the parish.

Metro Council members Chandler Loupe, Ryan Heck, Scott Wilson, Trae Welch, Buddy Amoroso and John Delgado voted against the ordinance. Voting in favor were its sponsors: Tara Wicker, Donna Collins-Lewis, Erika Green, Chauna Banks-Daniel, LaMont Cole and Joel Boé. None of the council members who voted against the ordinance explained during the meeting why they did so.

Smoke Free East Baton Rouge is a broad coalition of organizations, including the American Heart Association, spearheading the effort to protect all employees, musicians and entertainers in bars and casinos from the dangers of secondhand smoke. The group is committed to continuing support for smoke-free workplaces for everyone who lives in EBR.

Thank you to You’re the Cure advocates who called and emailed council members, participated in community events, and attended last night’s city council meeting.

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Welcome New Louisiana Gov. Relations Director

The American Heart Association is happy to announce that Ashley Bridges is the new Louisiana Government Relations Director.

Ashley has been a dedicated volunteer for quite some time. She has participated in the Capital Area’s Go Red For Women fashion show and is a former state advocacy committee member. She has been working with the smoke free coalition in East Baton Rouge Parish on their efforts to strengthen the local smoke free ordinance. Professionally, Ashley has worked with the Capitol Region Planning Commission as a Regional Transportation Safety Coordinator. Her work with the Planning Commission included everything from working to form coalitions to working on Complete Streets programs. Ashley also served as a legislative analyst with the Louisiana House of Representatives and an assistant with former Speaker Jim Tucker.

Ashley received her bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in sociology and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Louisiana State University. She is based in Baton Rouge and can be reached at Ashley.Bridges@heart.org.

Please join us in welcoming Ashley to the American Heart Association!

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Gov. Edwards Approves Tobacco Tax

On Tuesday, Gov. Edwards signed House Bill 14 into law. The legislation will increase the tobacco tax from 86-cents per pack to $1.08 per pack, which is higher than the one in Mississippi and lower than the ones in Texas and Arkansas.

This is not a victory for public health or the economy of Louisiana. The low tobacco tax increase will not:

  • Encourage adults to quit smoking
  • Deter our youth from starting the unhealthy habit
  • Lower health care costs
  • Generate $200 million annually for our state

Thank you to all You're the Cure advocates who called and emailed lawmakers throughout special session, in support of a significant tobacco tax increase. Majority of Louisiana voters of all party affiliations strongly support raising the state’s cigarette tax by $1.25 a pack as a smart solution to close the state’s serious budget shortfall, while saving lives and health care dollars.

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The healthy difference a month can make

March is Nutrition Month, and a perfect time to get more involved with the AHA’s ongoing efforts to promote science-based food and nutrition programs that help reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Every day, we’re seeing new initiatives: to make fruits and vegetables more affordable; to reduce the number of sugar-sweetened beverages that our kids are drinking; and of course, to ensure students are getting the healthiest school meals possible, all with the same goal: to help families across the country lead the healthiest lives they possibly can.

It’s also a great opportunity to lower your sodium intake. The average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day – more than twice the AHA-recommended amount. Excessive sodium consumption has been shown to lead to elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Visit www.heart.org/sodium for tips on to lower your intake and to get heart-healthy recipes.

However you choose to celebrate, Nutrition Month gives us all the chance to take control of our diets; to recommit to eating fresh, healthy foods; and to remember all month long that you’re the cure.

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