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Sugary Sweetened Beverage Tax Passes Legislative First Hurdle

The General Assembly’s Committee on Children voted on a bill that would place a 1 cent per ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and use the dollars raised to fund childhood obesity prevention initiatives.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are staples of today’s American diet.  These beverages are inexpensive, abundant, high in calories, and deliver little or no nutrition. They are heavily marketed, especially to children.  

More than any other food category, scientific studies have shown that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages contributes to poor diet, and risk for obesity, diabetes and a number of other serious health problems.

A sugar-sweetened beverage excise tax coupled with childhood obesity prevention funding are critical strategies that could reduce childhood obesity rates and improve the health of not only children, but the health of Connecticut’s residents who are overweight or obese.

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Seventy Percent of NC Voters Support Funding a Healthy Corner Store Initiative

On February 24, the NC Alliance for Health (North Carolina’s statewide coalition working on obesity and tobacco use prevention) released a statewide survey that shows that North Carolina registered voters (70 percent) support the creation of a Healthy Corner Store Initiative as a way of tackling the state’s childhood obesity epidemic. Additionally, a similar majority says that state and local governments should provide training and incentives to encourage neighborhood stores, where people often shop for groceries, to stock healthy foods.

"According to this poll, North Carolinians view unhealthy eating and childhood obesity as the most serious problems facing children in the United States, above physical activity, quality of education, and children not spending enough time outdoors," said Sarah Jacobson, Healthy Food Access Coordinator for the North Carolina Alliance for Health (NCAH) and You’re the Cure advocate. "This clearly demonstrates that it is time to stop talking about this issue and start doing something about it," she said.

"Programs such as a Healthy Corner Store Initiative and Healthy Food Financing improve availability, affordability and accessibility of healthy foods at food retailers within areas of poor food access. This approach would not only remove a barrier to healthy eating, but also create new business opportunities. If the focus also includes healthy foods grown and/or produced in North Carolina, the state could realize a triple win in terms of health, economic growth and community revitalization," said Jacobson.

The poll also found:

· More than 90 percent of registered North Carolina voters recognize childhood obesity and unhealthy eating as a serious problem
· Seventy-six percent of registered North Carolina voters favor state and local governments providing training and incentives to encourage corner store owners to stock and sell more healthy foods and beverages
· One half (50 percent) of registered voters view access to grocery stores in low to moderate income areas in both urban and rural communities as a serious or somewhat serious problem
· The fact that healthy foods are not affordable was identified as the most significant barrier to improving access to healthy foods in both urban and rural areas
· Lack of nutritional education and poor economic conditions were identified as significant barriers to healthy eating

Diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, certain kinds of cancer, obesity and diet-related diseases disproportionately impact communities without access to healthy foods. People living in such communities—known as food deserts—often shop for food at corner stores, which commonly sell highly processed foods that are high in fat and low in nutrients. In fact, youth who live near convenience stores have higher Body Mass Indices (BMIs) and consume more sugary drinks than their peers who live closer to full-service grocery stores. Additionally, one study published in Pediatrics showed that more than 40 percent of elementary school students shopped at a corner store twice daily, often purchasing chips, candy, and soda.

"I was particularly pleased that once those being polled learned more about the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, the support level jumped to 76 percent. This clearly shows North Carolinians are ready for action," said Jacobson.

The American Heart Association is working with the NC Alliance for Health to promote a healthy corner store statewide initiative.

For more information about the poll:

o Poll  Executive Summary

o Poll information packet

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House Committee Holds Hearing on Rhode Island School Marketing Bill

The House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) recently heard testimony on legislation that would eliminate unhealthy food and beverage marketing in Rhode Island schools.  The bill, introduced by HEW Committee Chairman Joe McNamara, is one of our top priorities for the 2015 Legislative Session. 

Many thanks to RI Advocacy Committee Chairman Dr. Steven Fera and RI Advocacy Committee member Laurie Stephenson for testifying at the hearing!  We are happy to report that there was no vocal opposition to the bill and committee members seemed generally supportive.  The next step – we are urging the committee to recommend passage of this important measure and move it to the House floor for a vote!  A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Susan Sosnowski – we are also awaiting a hearing before the Senate Education Committee.

Background:

While national, state, and local efforts have improved the nutritional quality of foods provided and sold in schools, some schools still permit the marketing of foods high in calories, fat, and sugar and of minimal nutritional value. That marketing includes sales, free samples, and advertising of unhealthy foods; corporate-sponsored fundraising programs which encourage students and their families to sell, purchase, and consume foods and beverages with little nutritional value; incentive programs, which reward children with free or discounted foods or beverages when they reach certain academic goals; sponsorship of school programs or events; and branded educational materials.

Permitting the advertising of foods and beverages at schools that may not be sold there interferes with school messages promoting good health and academic success. If children are taught through school health and nutrition curriculum to limit their intake of these foods and at the same time the foods are promoted by school-based advertising and marketing, the lessons of school health and nutrition curricula are undermined. The marketing also undermines parents’ efforts to feed their children a healthy diet.

The good news – according to a recent report, most Rhode Island middle schools and high schools already prohibit unhealthy food and beverage advertisements in school buildings (89%), on school grounds (88%), on school buses (84%), and in school publications (83%).  Let’s get to 100% Rhode Island!

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Thank you, Council Member Crowley!

Following up on the recent introduction of our PE Reporting bill in New York City, Council Member Crowley took to the TV to help advocate for her proposal.  Check out the link here:  http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/inside-city-hall/2015/02/19/ny1-online--queens-councilwoman-discusses-efforts-to-get-more-info-on-phys-ed-in-nyc-schools.html

Thank you, Council Member Crowley, for sharing our message and promoting the need for improved physical education in NYC!

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Dr. Stephen Leffler & the University of Vermont Medical Center Support a Tax to Reduce Obesity and Health Care Costs

The University of Vermont Medical Center has been outstanding in its support of a two cent per ounce excise tax on sugary drinks to reduce obesity in Vermont. Stephen Leffler, the Chief Medical Officer for the hospital, has been a tireless advocate testifying before a legislative committee, speaking at a press conference launching the campaign and recently posting the following on the Medical Center's blog.

Why We Support a Tax on Sugary Beverages

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Montpelier and advocate for a tax on sugary drinks. You might wonder why a physician would get involved in a tax debate? It’s simple. It’s because sugary drinks are a significant health concern for Vermonters.

Obesity and diabetes are major health issues for Vermonters and our country. Sugary drinks are linked to both conditions. The future of health care is partnering with and engaging our patients to keep them as healthy as possible. We know that the long-term health of our patients is influenced more by their actions and choices during daily life, versus what happens when they’re in our exam rooms. Patients who make good choices in terms of smoking, exercise and diet will live longer and healthier lives and consume less health care resources. That is how you drive down health care costs.

Public policies can be powerful tools to aide in these efforts. Policies, such as taxes, can help our patients make better, healthier choices. Cigarette taxes have proven this. As the cigarette tax has increased, smoking rates have dropped. Would any of us consider turning the clock back on that and go back to the days when nearly 40 percent of us were smoking $2 packs of cigarettes? If a 1-liter soda costs more than a pint of milk or water, more people will make the healthier choice. Why does that matter? Because sugary drinks are a major factor in obesity. Researchers estimate that sugar-added drinks account for at least one-fifth of the weight gained by the U.S. population between 1977 and 2007.

Consumption of sugary drinks is the single largest category of caloric intake for U.S. children, surpassing milk in the late 1990s. Think about that for a second. Sugary drinks account for more calories than fruits, vegetables, dairy products and healthy protein sources. Increasing the cost of sodas and energy drinks will help people make better choices. They will likely consume healthier, cheaper alternatives.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with an occasional soda. It should be a treat. Like having an ice cream cone. Today, many people do not think of a soda like a treat. Most people trying to eat a healthy diet would not have six ice cream cones a day but may not think twice about drinking a six pack of soda. That could be more than 1,000 empty calories with no nutritional benefits.

I grew up in a small town in Vermont and my parents owned a general store. I spent many hours of my life stocking coolers with sodas, milk, water and so on. I witnessed Vermonters making choices about what to buy every day. They were smart with their money. Making sugary drinks more expensive will help them be even smarter with their money and their health.

What’s more, the money raised from a sugary beverages tax can be used to help teach Vermonters and their children how to eat healthier, and actually make more nutritious foods more easily available. For example, we could direct funds to expand the impact of food access programs like Vermont Farm to Family, NOFA Vermont’s Farm Share program, Green Mountain Farm to School, and Vermont FEED – not to mention new programs. Revenue could also be used to offset the increased costs incurred from obesity. I firmly believe this tax is the right thing for our patients and our state.

Stephen M. Leffler, MD, FACEP, is the Chief Medical Officer at the UVM Medical Center, former Medical Director of the Emergency Department, and has been a practicing physician for 20 years. He is also a Professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He grew up in Brandon, Vermont.

Sources

Block G. Foods contributing to energy intake in the US: Data from NHANES III and NHANES 1999–2000. J Food Comp Anal 17 (2004): 439-47.

Woodward-Lopez*, Janice Kao and Lorrene Ritchie, To what extent have sweetened beverages contributed
to the obesity epidemic? Public Health Nutrition p. 4 (2010)

Malik, et al., DIABETES CARE, VOLUME 33, NUMBER 11, NOVEMBER 2010

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Getting Some Traction on the Sugary Drink Tax!

Legislators left Montpelier for their March break with interest hanging on the sugary drink tax. The House Health Care Committee took testimony on the tax as a possible source of revenue for health care reform measures and will likely vote on the tax when they return on March 10th. Read more here. http://digital.vpr.net/post/house-committee-eyes-soda-tax-health-care-reforms 

The House Ways and Means Committee will also focus on the tax with a hearing slated for March 11th.  Lawmakers are looking at closing a $112 million budget gap and with a list of $29 million in potential budget cuts presented recently, some lawmakers are also interested in new sources of revenue.  

The American Heart Association and the Alliance for a Healthier Vermont want to implement a 2 cent per ounce excise tax on sugary drinks to reduce consumption of sugary drinks and use a portion of the revenue for obesity prevention efforts and greater access to health care for underserved Vermonters. 

A new poll released by VTDigger shows Vermonters agree. 57% said they would support a tax on sugary drinks to fund health care for low income Vermonters. Editors from newspapers across Vermont also agree it makes sense. The St Albans Messenger, Addison Independent, Rutland Herald, Times Argus, Brattleboro Reformer and County Courier have all written editorials urging lawmakers to pass the tax this session. Check out the following editorial! http://www.reformer.com/opinion/ci_27585726/our-opinion-sugary-drinks-tax-heck-out-them 

With both obesity rates and health care costs climbing, the sugary drink tax should be a priority for Vermont lawmakers. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health notes in its State of Obesity report for Vermont that Vermont’s current 38,031 cases of heart disease could sky-rocket to 190,617 by 2030 if we continue on our current trend. A two cent tax on sugary drinks and a commitment to prevention makes more sense to us. 

Urge Vermont lawmakers to support prevention efforts such as this to reduce chronic diseases in Vermont. Click on the following to take action:

https://yourethecure.org/aha/advocacy/actioncenter.aspx 

And help us spread the word by “liking” the Alliance for a Healthier Vermont Facebook page and sharing the benefits about a sugary drink tax on your social media today!

https://www.facebook.com/HealthierVT

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Diana Cook, North Carolina

Diana Cook, North Carolina

As a veteran volunteer with the American Heart Association, Diana Cook has been involved in a myriad of ways with the organization over the years. As a Charlotte Heart Walk team leader, she led her work team several years in a row – and every year provided countless volunteers to help with the walk. As a You’re the Cure Advocate, and as a NC Advocacy Coordinating Committee member, she has volunteered for countless National and State Lobby Days, trainings, and advocacy opportunities.

There is more to Diana than just her volunteerism. She has experience personal loss at the hands of cardiovascular disease and stroke. After losing her father to emphysema, then a dear friend who had just turned 40 passed away due to a sudden stroke two weeks later, she spent a long time of wondering why her friend’s symptoms had gone misdiagnosed. Diana connected with Betsy Vetter and found her passion with AHA and a home with You’re the Cure. As her work with YTC began, Diana was able to join the Smoke-Free Mecklenburg team as a co-chair, and worked with that initiative promoting smoke-free both locally and then at the state level. It was her friend, and her father, who kept Diana engaged with the American Heart Association and kept her inspired to make a difference.

If you were to ask Diana why she volunteers with the AHA, she would tell you that beginning with her Heart Walk experience and including her time as an advocate with You’re the Cure, her experience has become personal. "Advocacy was the "rescue," if you will, that I needed during a traumatic time after my Dad and best friend died," she says. "It helped me to put my energy into something positive that honored them at the same time.  The experience was effecting a positive change for our state of North Carolina to get smoke free restaurants passed and providing vital information to women on heart and stroke disease."

It is advocates like Diana, who join us in You’re the Cure and see what an infinite difference they make in the lives of those around them, that make our network as strong and as passionate as it is. Thank you to Diana, and to all of our advocates, for making a difference and saving lives.

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An Update from the Capitol: Different approaches to transportation funding in 2015

The Republican House Majority bill (HF 4 – Rep. Kelly, Red Wing) calls for $750 million over the next four years, through redirecting existing dollars, tapping the state’s budget surplus to the tune of $200 million, and through greater "efficiencies" at MnDOT. Their bill is exclusively dedicated to funding roads and bridges with zero money for transit or pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. House GOP leadership have stated that this bill is a starting point.

Taking a decidedly more long-term and comprehensive approach, the DFL Senate Majority’s bill (SF 87 – Sen. Dibble, Minneapolis) calls for a $800 million to $1.1 billion annual investment in a multi-modal transportation system that includes dedicated money for roads, bridges, transit, and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. The money would be generated from a combination of new revenue (wholesale gas tax, ¾ of cent Metro sales tax increase, etc.) and redirecting federal dollars. The DFL Senate bill would provide approximately $50 million per year for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in Minnesota, $16 million of which is dedicated for Greater Minnesota. Safe routes to school projects are specifically named as an eligible use for these new funds.

Governor Dayton’s transportation budget (HF 847) proposes roughly $11 billion over the next 10 years in multi-modal investments using similar funding sources as the DFL Senate bill (wholesale gas tax, ½ cent Metro sales tax increase, etc.). However, Dayton’s proposed investment in walking and biking is just $8 million per year over the next ten years, far below the $50 million per year walking and biking advocates have called for to meet the needs across Minnesota. Of the $7.5 million per year to support walking and bicycling, Dayton would make roughly $3 million per year available to the Safe Routes to School program. However, those dollars would come from the General Fund, which is a less secure funding source than dedicated transportation dollars.


How can you help support walking and biking?

Active and healthy living advocates have a unique role to play by bringing a new voice to transportation funding discussions. Get involved and stay informed: Make sure you "like" the MN Safe Routes to School Coalition and Move MN Facebook pages.

Two new resources can help us communicate the need for pedestrian and bicycle funding to the public and lawmakers. Use them in conversations with friends, colleagues and legislators to elevate the importance of investing in a transportation system in Minnesota that supports walking and bicycling.

1. The statewide active transportation poll shows a significant majority (65%) of Minnesotans favor including additional funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in any transportation funding proposal state lawmakers consider.

2. The interactive online map shows funded and unfunded pedestrian and bicycle projects in Minnesota, including Safe Routes to School projects. Check out what is happening in your community.

The Bottom Line: Policymakers need to hear from YOU!

If Minnesota is to achieve significant, dedicated funding for improving the safety and convenience of walking and bicycling for all users, regardless of age or zip code, YOU need to take action and speak out! Watch for Action Alerts this legislative session to ensure walking and biking are a central part of the transportation discussion. And make sure to join us at the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition Day at the Capitol on March 25, 2015 so you can advocate for walking and biking infrastructure. Register here now!

Thanks for your ongoing support!

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Latest diet advice issued today by nutrition experts

We would like to introduce Suzie Sodium. She is a registered dietitian who is regularly posting content and updates over at www.sodiumbreakup.heart.org.

She is bringing us some breaking news today, so take it away Suzie!

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In the American Heart Association’s quest to help Americans build healthier lives, promoting healthy eating habits is a key strategy. Because nutrition recommendations are based on the best evidence available, they shift over time. As we gather more evidence and use new research techniques, we get an increasingly clearer picture of what a healthy diet should look like.
 
One of the most important sources of nutrition guidance for our country is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). By law, this document is updated every 5 years. It is jointly published by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA). The DGAs give us advice about what to eat for optimal health, according to the latest science.

The DGAs are used for much more than just educating the public about healthy eating. They help the federal government set nutrition standards for school meals, child care centers, and food assistance programs. Federal food and nutrition education programs are based on the DGAs. They also impact the information provided by nutrition facts panels and other nutrition labeling on food packages. Doctors, dietitians, and other healthcare providers use the guidelines as the basis for the nutrition guidance they provide to patients. As you can see, the guidelines have a broad impact.

So how do these guidelines come to be? In the first stage of the process, the government appoints a committee of the nation’s top experts in nutrition and chronic disease prevention. This group is called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The committee reviews the previous edition of the DGAs as well as any new evidence that’s been published in the meantime. They also hear from expert guest speakers and consider oral and written comments from the public. The committee then writes a scientific report with its recommendations and submits it to the federal government.

Today, the committee’s report to the federal government was released to the public. The report emphasized an overall healthy eating pattern with lower levels of salt, saturated fat, and added sugars than Americans’ current diets. It described a healthy eating pattern as rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish/seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in non- and low-fat dairy products and alcohol; lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains (i.e., grains that are stripped of some of their nutrients and thus are not whole grains). Overall, the American Heart Association says that the report’s recommendations are a shift in the right direction, and if accepted by HHS and USDA, will help steer the public toward a more heart-healthy path in their daily diets.

Over the rest of this year, HHS and USDA will use the advisory committee’s science report to create the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They will also consider comments from others in the government and from the public as they develop the final report. Stay tuned to learn more about what the final guidelines will say, and what they will mean for your food choices.

Do government nutrition guidelines influence the food choices you make for yourself or your family?

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Breaking News! Grocery Access Legislation Introduced

Thanks to advocates like you, legislation was just introduced in the Texas House and Senate that would create a Texas Grocery Access Investment program. This investment would support business and create jobs. It also would bring grocery stores to communities where it is difficult to buy fresh and healthy food, help families be healthier and fight obesity, and ultimately drive down the costs associated with unhealthy living.

It’s critical that you ask Texas legislators for their support. We believe that everyone deserves the right to healthy food in their communities. If not for yourself, speak up today for the health of your more than 3.4 million fellow Texans who lack access to grocery stores. Ask House and Senate committee members who oversee this legislation to grow businesses and create jobs by supporting Texas Grocery Access Investment.

Click here to ask Texas legislators to fund this bill now!

Texas Grocery Access Investment Act – Highlights

The Texas Grocery Access Investment Fund is a grant and loan program to bring new grocery stores to underserved communities, as well as support renovation and expansion of existing stores to ensure access to fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, poultry and seafood products.

This critical program aims to help healthy and affordable food retailers overcome the higher initial barriers to entry into low-income and underserved communities—barriers like land acquisition financing, construction and workforce development.

A modest, one-time public investment of $10 million for the 2016-17 biennium in the Texas Grocery Access Investment Fund would improve public health by providing access to healthy foods in order to reduce diet-related diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. This program is an investment in the economy of underserved areas since grocery stores create quality jobs and contribute to the revitalization of rural and urban communities.

Grocery Access Investment – How it Works

  • The legislation would create the Texas Grocery Access Investment Program at the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). 
  • The program’s fund will be comprised of money appropriated by the Texas Legislature, as well as federal, state, or private grants or loans and/or any other financial assistance to be utilized for the construction, expansion or renovation of grocery stores to provide access to healthy foods in underserved areas. 
  • The agency would be able to contract with a non-profit or community development financial institution, which would administer the program, establish program guidelines, raise matching funds, promote the program statewide, evaluate applicants, underwrite and disburse grants and loans, and monitor compliance and impact. 
  • TDA will develop rules, regulations or other procedures to carry out the program. No more than 10% of the funds appropriated can be used by the agency for administrative and operational costs to manage the program.   

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