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What's Up with School Nutrition?

There is a lot of discussion out there about school nutrition – and we couldn’t be happier about that!  Students consume 35% - 50% of their daily caloric intake at school where they are often exposed to junk foods and sugar-sweetened beverages that have little to no nutritional value.  Parents – and students – have concerns about the nutritional value of the foods their kids are consuming at school. Schools are in a unique position to provide a healthy environment by promoting and providing nutritious meals. 

CLICK HERE for an informational video about school nutrition. 

Here is what we know:  In December 2010, the President signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to update national nutrition standards for school meals and establish nutrition standards for other foods sold in schools throughout the school day.  As a result, in school year 2013-2014, nearly 90% of schools in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) met nutritional standards, up from 14% in 2009-2010.  That means an overwhelming majority of children are receiving heart-healthy lunches while at school. 

We also know that a healthy school environment, including healthy nutrition, helps improve children’s physical well-being, enhances learning, minimizes behavior problems and increases attendance. 

The evidence is overwhelming that the new school meal standards are working.  Going into child nutrition reauthorization for 2015, the American Heart Association advocates for:

  • Continued support to schools for effective implementation of the federal nutrition standards for school meals.
  • Continued strong implementation of Smart Snacks in School standards. These standards include reducing sodium; eliminating trans fat; decreasing saturated far; minimizing fried foods; offering healthy beverage options; and increasing the offering of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and low-fat dairy. 
  • Continued robust technical assistance by the USDA to support schools in implementing nutrition standards, effective nutrition education, and nutrition promotion and model local wellness policies with effective implementation and evaluation. 
  • Investments in kitchen equipment and infrastructure that can help schools serve healthier meals. 


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Advocate Spotlight: Mary Michaels

Mary Michaels South Dakota

My Dad is Why.

It was the month of May; I finished my second year of college and moved back home for the summer.

I was a kid that actually loved hanging out with my parents. As the youngest of 6, I was raised going everywhere with them – concerts, plays, community events, or trips to visit family. I was looking forward to getting back to my summer job and having time to relax with my parents.  Less than a week after I got home from college, however, our world turned upside down.

It was a Tuesday morning, and my mom and I were awakened by a loud bang.  My dad had collapsed against the door of the bathroom. My parents had recently downsized from a house to a condo, and I knew there was a doctor in the building. I first called 9-1-1, and then went to find help while my mom started CPR.

It was sudden cardiac arrest. He was only 57. He was gone.

I think my dad is why … through an interesting twist of fate many years later … I was led to a job with the American Heart Association.  I know my dad is why I became so passionate about healthy living and health promotion.

My family and I enjoy getting out and being active – whether at home or when we travel. Our son’s initials are JIM, in honor of the grandfather he never got to meet.

When I joined the American Heart Association, I wanted to do my part to raise awareness about heart disease and keep families together longer … to keep other daughters from losing their dads and not being able to share special events like college graduation, a wedding and the birth of a grandchild.

Through my work with the American Heart Association, I was able play a role in ensuring high school students have physical education to teach them the benefits of life-long physical activity, in protecting residents and visitors from secondhand smoke through our statewide smoke-free law, and in helping our very youngest South Dakotans get screened for congenital heart defects right after birth.

Today, I work with Live Well Sioux Falls – a community-wide initiative to help our residents Breathe Well, Eat Well, Feel Well and Move Well. It is rewarding to see individuals make healthy lifestyle choices, to help employers invest in their employees through worksite well-being and to work with great community partners (like the American Heart Association!) to create a healthier place to live, work, learn and play.

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From the Frontlines in Pierre: A Legislative Update

It’s hard to believe, but the 90th session of South Dakota’s legislature is now half over! It’s been an interesting if slow session so far, but things will be picking up as we speed toward the end in mid-March.

So far, active transportation issues have been keeping us busy – the Daugaard administration introduced two bills relating to bicycle and pedestrian safety, and we are supporting the legislation. HB 1030 would give people on bicycles at least a three-foot leeway when being passed by cars, and HB 1032 would require motorists to actually stop when people walking are crossing in a pedestrian crosswalk.

Why are we involved in transportation bills? Simply put, the American Heart Association supports policies that make it easier and safer for people to be more active in their daily lives. If it’s safer for someone to ride their bike to work or for exercise, they’ll get out on that bike more. If it’s safer for kids to cross roads on their way to and from school, parents are more inclined to let them walk or bike instead of firing up the minivan to drop them off. And more active transportation means healthier hearts!

We’re monitoring a number of other bills, including several vehicle bills that may support legislation to cover more people in our state through Medicaid. It’s been a long haul for Medicaid expansion as legislators consider ideas on how to cover the state’s share of expansion. It’s a great deal for South Dakota as the federal government has pledged to cover not less than 90 percent of the costs to cover up to about 48,000 more people. Medicaid coverage means hard-working South Dakotans will get their preventive care, keeping them out of emergency rooms and delaying serious (and expensive) health problems such as heart attacks. If someone can’t pay their medical bills, the costs get passed on to all of us through higher insurance premiums and taxes – let’s cover people and make sure they’ve got their preventive care that keeps them healthier and more productive.

Stay tuned as there’s a lot of session left. Make sure to like our Facebook page to keep in top of what we’re working on here in Pierre. As always, you can reach me at or my cell at 605-261-7717 .

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AHA Day at the Capitol

Volunteers, survivors and advocates traveled to Pierre on Monday, February 9th for AHA Day at the Capitol to raise awareness for cardiovascular disease and stroke, and to share their concerns with lawmakers.  With heart disease being our state's number one killer of adults, raising awareness and educating South Dakotans about the risk factors for these chronic diseases was a primary goal of the day. 

Volunteers advocates took this opportunity to talk about the importance of learning CPR, reducing obesity in our state, and the importance of living an active lifestyle and paying attention to good nutrition. 

One of the primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke is obesity.  According to the State of Obesity Report, published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, South Dakota ranks 21st in adult obesity with 29.9% of adults considered to be obese.  Obesity is a primary risk factor for many other chronic diseases including diabetes and cancer. One of the bills we are supporting is HB 1032 which will improve safety for bicyclists on South Dakota roads.  Better safety will encourage more active lifestyles, prevent obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it - like heart disease and stroke. 

Advocates had the opportunity to hear from Secretary of Health Kim Malsam- Rysdon on South Dakota's risks for heart disease and stroke and where we rank on both adult and childhood obesity. We also partnered with the SD-EMS Association to host our annual legislative reception.  More than 75 legislators stopped by to practice Hands Only CPR and talk with AHA staff and volunteers. 

Throughout the month of February, Heart Month, legislators are encouraged to wear red to help raise awareness for heart disease and stroke. 


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Advocate Spotlight: Dr. Paul Amundson

Paul Amundson South Dakota

FAMILY.  As a family physician I saw numerous cases of individuals suffer and/or die from heart disease way too early in life. I committed myself early in my career to doing everything within my power to combat this #1 killer of South Dakotans (and the entire US). Like many of you, this first hit home with me when my beloved Uncle Bob died while undergoing his second heart surgery. He is still greatly missed and I’ll never forget the fun times we had together on the farm, or his infectious laugh as he was always smiling, laughing, and loving life. I still have a Zip Feed hat in honor of him. Hopefully during my 15 years in primary care I was able to prevent others from having to lose a loved one to heart disease.

Since I have been in my role at DAKOTACARE health plan as Chief Medical Officer since 2007 I have tried to continue this passion, but on a “higher level”: promote health, reduce risk factors for heart disease, get people timely information, and assist them in living a healthier life. I am honored and humbled to work with MANY individuals here who share that same passion of improving health, focusing on such high risk areas of heart disease and diabetes. This passion led me to serve as Chair of the 2013 AHA Heart Walk, in order to help raise funds to further our statewide effort in combatting this “Number 1 Killer”. I continue to look for ways for give back and encourage you to do the same.

I love my family greatly and, like you, want to be around for them for MANY years. My wife Alison keeps me focused on fitness and nutrition (thank you dear) and my sons (20, 22, 25) keep me humble. Finally, I have been extremely impressed with the passion of our own AHA staff and thank them for all they do to improve the health of South Dakotans!


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Everyone Should Learn CPR

We know that CPR saves lives.  We know that more than 420,000 EMS assessed-out of hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States each year – and most of them are fatal.  We also know that only 10% of victims who suffer a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital setting survive. Administering CPR immediately when someone goes down with a sudden cardiac arrest can double - even triple - a victim's chances for survival.  

Recently, a middle-school student collapsed on the gymnasium floor.  His parents and coach reacted immediately by getting the AED and giving him CPR.  Nate survived and is ready to go back to school.  

CPR changed the outcome for this young man.  If CPR is not given right away, by the time the paramedics get there, it's too late.  This is another amazing example of how CPR and AED saves lives.  We encourage all students in South Dakota to learn CPR.  We encourage the state of South Dakota to join more than 20 other states in the nation to require students to learn CPR before they graduate.  We know it can save lives.  

For more on this story, CLICK HERE.  

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More Concerns about E-Cigs

As more research comes available and more studies are being done on the effects of e-cigarettes, today the New England Journal of Medicine raises a new worry about electronic cigarettes – exposure to formaldehyde.  You remember formaldehyde, right?  Who could forget that awful-smelling chemical used in your high school biology class to dissect frogs?  Turns out, formaldehyde is formed when the propylene glycol and glycerol in e-cigarette liquids and oxygen are heated together.   

According to an article in today's Los Angeles Times Science Now, The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer says formaldehyde can cause leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers the chemical a probably human carcinogen. 

Let's not kid ourselves.  The study coauthor James Pankow, a chemistry professor and expert on cigarette smoke dangers at Portland State University, said the line between e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes was growing fuzzier by the day.

“No one should assume e-cigarettes are safe,” he said in a statement. “For conventional cigarettes, once people become addicted, it takes numerous years of smoking to result in a high risk of lung cancer and other severe disease; it will probably take five to 10 years to start to see whether e-cigarettes are truly as safe as some people believe them to be.” 

For more on this story, CLICK HERE.  

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National Wear Red Day is Friday, February 6

National Wear Red Day is Friday, February 6, 2015, but heart disease kills 1 in 3 women year-round. That's why we want to say thank you for helping raise awareness no matter what time of the year. To get started, we have created free materials that you can print on your home or office printer.  It's easy to get started! CLICK HERE and Sign Up, then check your inbox for a confirmation email with a link to access the materials you will need to make your Wear Red Day a huge success.

In addition to National Wear Red Day, with February being Heart Month, there are opportunities to be involved and raise awareness all month long!  Here is a quick look at some of the activities going on across the state:

  • Thursday February 5 – Go Red Open House Kickoff Event downtown Sioux Falls at MESO, 220 S. Phillips Ave. 5:30-7:30 
  • Friday February 6 – STATEWIDE: GO RED!! Wear red, light up your home or business red, change marquees in support of going red, let’s bring awareness to heart disease and stroke – the #1 killer of South Dakotans and across the US
  • February 14 - Sanford Heart Screenings will be present at the Watertown Farm and Home show
  • Monday, February 16 - Heart Healthy month event at Calico Skies, 7pm Topic: Why wine can be good in a heart healthy diet (sponsored by Sanford Health)
  • February 17th, 24th, March 3rd & 10th: 4 part cooking classes in Aberdeen, SD in partnership with Aberdeen Community Education. Feb 17th speaker will feature American Heart Association, Feb 24th will feature a local co-op, March 3rd, SD Pork Council and March 10th SD Beef Council (sponsored by Sanford Health)
  • Friday February 20 – Go Red for Women Luncheon 11:30 a.m.- 1:00 pm at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. Tickets available online by visiting or by calling 605.261.0829
  • Friday, February 20 - Sanford Heart is sponsoring the Sioux Falls Skyforce game at 7:05
  • Saturday, February 21 - Sioux Empire Mall event featuring Sanford Heart Screening, AHA, Stroke Team and a Mock STEMI event.  
  • Saturday, February 28 - Rapid City Heart Ball, Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, 5:00 p.m. 

In addition, Avera will be raising awareness for Health Month by providing fun and educational activities with 4th and 5th graders from various SD communities.  MEGA Heart will be on display along with heart models, listening to your heart, learning hands-only CPR and how too much sugar can turn into fat and damage your heart. 

Finally, if you do ONE THING during the month of February to learn about Heart, learn how to do HANDS ONLY CPR.  You never know when this skill might save a life.  

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A Healthy Recipe for School Nutrition

The U.S. is in the midst of a fullblown obesity epidemic that has disproportionately affected our children. Currently, nearly one third of children are overweight or obese. The health consequences of obesity in children are
staggering. Recent research shows that an obese child’s arteries can resemble those of a middle-aged adult and obese adolescents have an overwhelming chance of becoming obese adults. Students consume 35%- 50% of their daily caloric intake at school, where they are often exposed to junk foods and sugary drinks that have little to no nutritional value. Schools can institute a healthy environment by promoting and providing nutritious meals.

In December 2010, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to update national nutrition standards for school meals and establish nutrition standards for other foods sold in schools throughout the school day. As a result, in school year 2013-2014, nearly 90% of schools in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) met nutritional standards, up from 14% in 2009-2010. That means an overwhelming majority of children are receiving heart-healthy lunches while at school.

The law has had several other positive effects on school nutrition and health. For example:

  • Local wellness policies have been strengthened by creating more accountability and better implementation.
  • The Smart Snacks in School standards, which are set to go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year, update nutrition standards for all foods sold on the school campus outside of the meal program throughout the school day,
  • including vending machines, a la carte, and school stores. Many schools have already met the Smart Snacks standards, and many in the foo d industry are already either in compliance with or in support of these standards.
  • Schools now receive $.06 performance-based increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches for meeting the updated nutrition standards for lunch.
  • Farm-to-school programs now receive $5 million annually in mandatory funding.
  • Kids’ consumption of fruits and vegetables has increased.
  • A Government Accounting Office (GAO) report concluded that while there have been some challenges in implementing the school lunch standards, school meals are now healthier than ever and challenges are expected to resolveover time as school food service and students adjust to the changes.

Don't Give up on Children's Health

While there have been challenges, that’s not unexpected. Kids are adjusting to the new meals and appropriate portion sizes – in fact, recent interviews by the GAO showed that students like to eat healthy food and think the new school meals are healthier. Parents are happier that their children are not receiving junk for a meal. And while there has been some criticism about participation declining, this downward trend started in 2007, well before the school meal standards went into effect in 2012. In fact, the GAO report also noted that participation will likely improve over time as students and school food service fully adapt to healthier meals. Like students who may struggle in classrooms, schools that struggle with the new standards need assistance, not a pass or waiver. It is critical that schools are not forced to stop mid-implementation or get mixed messages of what is required of them. Let’s help these schools move forward and not turn back the clock on our children’s health. The evidence is overwhelming that the new school meal standards are working. Going into child nutrition reauthorization for 2015, the American Heart Association advocates for:

  • Continued support to schools for effective implementation of the federal nutrition standards for school meals.
  • Continued strong implementation of Smart Snacks in School standards. These standards include reducing sodium; eliminating trans fat; decreasing saturated fat; minimizing fried foods; offering healthy beverages; and increasing the offering of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and low-fat dairy.
  • Continued robust technical assistance by the USDA to support schools in implementing nutrition standards, effective nutrition education, and nutrition promotion and model local wellness policies with effective implementation and evaluation.


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Advocate Spotlight: Jeremy Aylward Family

Jeremy, Andrea and Nora Aylward South Dakota

Blessings are why…

I believe that I have been undoubtedly blessed in many ways throughout my short existence, but with a blessing being a gift I had to find a way to share my gratitude. Therefore, I fashioned the blessings bestowed upon me into a way to help others learn, live, and grow by becoming involved with AHA many years ago as an advocate and sharing my story. 

However, my personal story changed within the last year and now has become OUR story. My journey physically started at birth with a congenital heart defect; however, the official journey didn’t start until diagnosis during that time of uncertainty we have all experienced – adolescence. After diagnosis, I progressed through the years with checkups, appointments, scans, echos, monitors, pokes, and more until I reach the ripe old age of 18. April of 2003 was ushered in with an open heart surgery, and I ushered it out the same way with my second surgery. I healed, coped, understood, and landed back on my feet. My foothold was temporary as then the insurance powers that be decided it their turn to roll the dice. I picked myself up, brushed myself off, and trudged on for a little while longer. Nevertheless, my foothold was again tore out from under me a short while later when a notice came in the mail informing me that I was no longer a covered individual on my insurance. Long story short, I went uninsured for some time until I graduated college and could get full time employment. 

All of the parts of my journey certainly helped shape me into the person I am today, and looking back the tribulations only seem like minor bumps in the road. Opening up about my journey and using it as a tool of hope, inspiration, and support over the years has also helped me learn more about myself and about the precious journey of life. I was at the point in life where my journey seemed like a past chapter in life that I would just go back and visit from time to time; however, about eight months ago that changed as I entered into a new era of uncertainty – parenthood. 

I felt like I was ready even though I knew life was changing, and I wasn’t quite sure the true metamorphosis it would take. The experience was truly a miracle and blessing showcasing the amazing tenderness and beauty of God’s creation.  I became a dad in May of 2014 and it was darn near impossible to wipe the smile off my face as my wife and I had prepared, researched, gone through the high-risk screenings due to my history, and much more. However, one person (whom I do not blame, but rather thank) knew just how to slap that smile right off my face, and that person was my cardiologist. Our precious daughter was born with a bicuspid aortic valve (one of the same congenital heart defects I was born with), and a ventricular septal defect. 

When the diagnosis hit me, my entire being was flooded with emotion - emotions that I haven’t enough room to share here. My personal journey raced through my mind over and over and over again - I had not even been a dad for a full day, but I was crumbling on the inside as I never, ever thought my daughter would have to possibly endure a similar experience. Thankfully, Nora's VSD has closed on its own, and her valve looks good and is functioning well.  My mechanical valve and my heart also look good, and the mechanical valve is still functioning as it should be.  We are grateful for those good reports! 

Daily, I think about the gifts I have been given in life, and I owe many thanks to those who helped saved my life, helped me cope, and helped me understand how to take care of my health into the future.  However, it is no longer my story rather it is OUR story - the story of how one of God’s greatest gifts, Nora, will keep me motivated and on the journey that I know all too well.   

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