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Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice - Start with Blueberries and Help with Policy!

I don’t know about you, but this time of year, all I want to do is snack on fresh Vermont blueberries. Yummy! I put a bowl in the front of our fridge, and every time the door is opened, it’s hard for someone in my family not to grab a handful and pop them in their mouth.

That’s a great example of how a family can make the healthy choice the easy choice. Make what’s healthier easier to do than what is not healthy.

There are many organizations getting on board this simple, but effective strategy. And you can too!

Recently, the Vermont Department of Health launched its 3-4-50 campaign. This highlights that three behaviors are responsible for four diseases that cause fifty percent of the deaths in Vermont. Making healthy choices easier, is a big part of VDH’s plan to combat these chronic diseases. Click on their link to find out more ways that you can make the healthy choice the easy choice.

And make sure you take action on our advocacy issues as well to make healthy choices more accessible to Vermonters. Healthy restaurant kids meals, tobacco prevention funding, raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21 and helping to ensure complete streets that are safe for walkers and bicyclists are some of the issues we’ll be addressing when the legislature returns in January. We’re counting on you to help make the healthy choice the easy choice at home, work and in policies for all!

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Katie Towle - Supporting Families and Pushing for Critical Heart Tests for Kids

Katie Towle knows there are two things that can help a child when they are born with a heart defect – a life-saving test that can help detect it, and the support of other families with children who also have heart defects.

Katie helped promote the need for mandatory pulse oximetry testing for newborns at our legislative reception this winter. She’s a big advocate because her son Jack did NOT receive this test when he was born.

Katie said then, “Had this simple, painless test been done upon birth, we may have been able to have his repair surgery months earlier and avoided so many hospital stays with over 30 nights cumulatively away from our older child, our home and our jobs. Due to the delay in his surgery, Jack’s growth was significantly delayed and his physical development fell drastically behind the national standards.”

Katie will be promoting that pulse oximetry be the standard screening adopted when the Vermont Health Department undertakes a rulemaking to require congenital heart defect screening this year.

She also just formed a cardiac kids’ support group of parents and kids with congenital heart defects. We all had a great time attending the Lake Monsters game together this summer! If you have a child with a congenital heart defect, let me know. We’d love to connect you with this wonderful group and we would also love your help in requiring this test for newborns in Vermont. My email is

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Healthy Kids Meals, Good for Kids and Good for Business!

Parents rely on restaurants often these days for meals given hectic work and family schedules. But even though dining out is fun, fast, and easy, it’s not always healthy for kids. We’d like to change that.

We’re working in Vermont to ensure that all restaurant kids’ meals meet nutrition standards to serve our kids better. When we surveyed Vermont restaurants last year, they said they could make changes to improve the nutrition of their kids' meals relatively easily. But they wanted to make sure kids would eat the meals, and parents would buy them. Now we have some good news.

New research from Tufts shows that when a restaurant group they studied eliminated fries and sodas from kids’ meals, orders of healthy entrees and sides went up! Check it out for yourself! 

Kids were able to eat healthy and restaurants still made a profit. Let your local restaurants know that healthy meals for kids are good for kids and business.

We’ll be serving healthy kids meals to the public for free this September at events at seven restaurants across Vermont. Let us know if you’re interested and we’ll hook you up with a location near you!

Email me at tina.zuk@heartorg.

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July Means Healthier Eating Statewide

One of the great things that happened when you flipped your calendar on July 1st was that that’s the day the state of Vermont began requiring state agencies to meet nutrition standards for the foods they sell and serve. And you’re part of the reason!

We advocated this past legislative session for legislation requiring nutrition standards for state government in vending, food service and institutions. We wanted state government to walk the walk so other businesses and organizations across Vermont would follow suit. The legislation passed, the governor signed it into law in May and the health department just released its nutrition standards last Friday!

Thanks for helping us make this a reality! Vermont is currently the only state to require nutrition standards in all three areas!

Please take a moment to thank the members of the Senate Health and Welfare and House Health Care Committees who gave their support to this effort. They were true champions and we couldn’t have done it without them. Take action at:

Here’s to healthy eating in Vermont!

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Helping Us Fight the Silent Killer

High blood pressure is called The Silent Killer for a reason.  It has no symptoms, so you may not be aware that it's damaging your arteries, heart and other organs. When left untreated, possible health consequences can include heart disease, heart attack, stroke and congestive heart failure.

But, the sad fact is that too many people have high blood pressure. Currently in Vermont, 31% of adults suffer from high blood pressure. That means 128,688 people! And that number is predicted to climb to more than 174,000 people by 2030 if current obesity trends continue.

That’s why we’re excited by an effort by one of our Vermont partners, the YMCA, to treat high blood pressure. The Y’s Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring Program helps adults with hypertension to lower and manage their blood pressure. With the help of a Healthy Heart Ambassador, the four month program focuses on regulated home self-monitoring of a person’s blood pressure and the participant is provided with individualized consultations and nutrition education for better blood pressure management.

The program will include nutrition education seminars each month that focus on dietary approaches to reducing hypertension, reducing sodium intake, shopping, cooking and food preparation, and eating for your heart.

A really neat bonus to the program in our area is a 30 day family membership at the Greater Burlington YMCA. Find out more and see if you're eligible by contacting Kristin Magnant at or at (802) 652-8196 .

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Imagine Getting a Healthy Kids Meal Anywhere

Imagine going out to eat with your family and knowing that any restaurant you chose that had a kids’ meal would offer some nice, healthy choices. Any restaurant. That’s what we’re striving for.

But that’s not the case currently. Today, due to work demands and hectic school and sport schedules, families are eating out more than ever. But our kids are paying the price. Only 3% of restaurant kids’ meals currently meet nutrition standards and this translates to kids getting one fourth of their calories from eating out.

We’re working on an exciting campaign in Vermont to require all restaurants that advertise kids’ meals to meet nutrition standards for those meals. And we want to help them in a fun way. This summer, we’ll be recruiting chefs across the state to prepare menus based on our nutrition standards, train other chefs and hold events this fall at select restaurants across the state so families can see what it’s like to walk into a restaurant and know that anything they chose on the kids menu is going to be good for their kids. And the meals will be on us!

No sugary drink, fewer calories and salt, at least a half cup of fresh fruit and vegetables like these great Vermont strawberries and a lean protein or whole grain. Wouldn’t that be a treat?!

Stay tuned for more information as we move ahead and plan on attending one of our healthy restaurant events this fall with your kids. Email me if you’re interested in attending or getting involved at

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UVM Student Research Aids Restaurant Kids Meal Effort

An important part of advocacy is knowing the current environment surrounding an issue. Thanks to research conducted by UVM medical students this past year, we have great data to help us in our efforts this summer and fall to promote nutrition standards for kids meals at Vermont restaurants.  

As part of a public health project with the American Heart Association, the students surveyed Vermont restaurants who served kids meals and found that while 80% of restaurants said they offered healthy entrees, 80% also said they offered unhealthy entrees. This makes it more difficult for parents to feed their kids healthy because kids are often going to want to choose the unhealthy option that they perceive as more flavorful. We want to ensure that all entrée options on the kids’ meals menus are healthy to ensure kids can choose a healthy option, help parents and level the playing field because all Vermont restaurants that serve kids meals would be serving healthy meals. 

Another area to work on is that more than 50% of the restaurants still serve soda with their kids’ meals. But the good news is that the survey results showed the restaurant owners largely DISAGREED that their sales would decrease if they changed their beverage options. And most owners agreed that they had access to resources to make the changes easily.

 With some good data behind us, thanks to the UVM medical students, we hope you’ll help us as well in promoting the need for restaurants to make the healthy choice the easy choice on kids’ meals.

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Vermont Child Care Facilities have new Emphasis on Healthy Eating and Activity!

Parents of young children across Vermont can now have greater confidence that their child care provider is building the foundation for a heart-healthy life.

The Vermont Child Development Division (CDD) of the Agency for Human Services recently issued new regulations for home and center-based early child care facilities ensuring children in their care are served healthy foods, no sugary drinks and get plenty of active play time.  The Division touts that they have “engaged parents, providers, regulators and community members in a process of dialogue and consensus building to create regulations that are child centered, family friendly and fair to providers. This revision provides clarification and incorporates new information to update definitions, staff qualifications, effective program operation and changes in both program and regulatory practice.” 

Advocates for the new standards include the Eat Well Play More coalition co-chaired by the YMCA and the American Heart Association and the Building Bright Futures Early Childhood Wellness Committee as a partner in this effort. The coalition worked for several months to develop a list of 20 recommendations for the regulation revision process. Later in the fall, they hosted an early childcare conference featuring national experts on child nutrition policy, including Jessica Donze-Black with The Pew Charitable Trusts and Natasha Frost with the Public Health Law Center.

Parents and caregivers also provided feedback on the revisions, resulting in a thorough process and improved care for the thousands of children under age 6 in Vermont who are enrolled in such facilities. Highlights of the new regulations include better nutrition, less time watching TV or sitting on computers and more time being active:

  • More fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • No sugary drinks
  • More physical activity
  • No screen time for children under the age of 2 and limited for older children

The new regulations will positively impact care for as many as 35,000 children in 1500 early care settings across Vermont!



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New Effort Emphasizes Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice!

Did you know that Vermonters today are more likely to die from a largely preventable disease than an infectious disease? The Vermont Department of Health this month is launching 3-4-50, a simple concept to help us grasp the reality that 3 health behaviors contribute to 4 chronic diseases that claim the lives of more than 50 percent of Vermonters. And it’s right up the American Heart Association’s alley with a focus on making the healthy choice the easy choice!

Lack of physical activity, poor nutrition and tobacco use are three behaviors that contribute to the development and severity of chronic disease.

In Vermont, more than three out of four adults do not follow the recommended diet. Two out of five adults and three out of four adolescents do not get enough physical activity. One in six adults and one in eight adolescents currently smoke.

These behaviors lead to four chronic diseases that are costing Vermont dearly in health care spending.

Lung disease, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease impact many Vermonters.

•One in 10 adults have been diagnosed with asthma (11%), and 6% with COPD. In total, 15%* have been diagnosed with asthma or COPD.
•8% have been diagnosed with diabetes, and another 6% with pre-diabetes (13%* combined).

•7% are currently living with cancer.

•7% have cardiovascular disease.

These chronic diseases are responsible for 55 percent of deaths in Vermont.  They also affect the quality of life for Vermonters and the state’s economic future.

Medical costs related to asthma, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have increased since 2010. In 2015, the estimated cost in Vermont was $2,042,000,000. Costs are expected to continue on this path, increasing by 75 percent from 2010 to 2020.

Stay tuned for more information soon! The Vermont Department of Health will officially launch this effort on June 7th with more information available at

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Little Tikes with a Big Message

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to get the message across. Sawyer Daniels and Jack Towle stole the show at our April legislative reception.

Sawyer is here today because his heart defect was able to be detected early thanks to a pulse oximetry test given shortly after birth – a defect that likely would have been fatal had he gone home without it being discovered.

Jack’s defect was not discovered right away as he did not receive a pulse oximetry test as a newborn and suffered the health consequences for months.

You can hear more about their story here.

Sawyer and Jack’s parents – Tessa and Elijah Daniels and Katie and Michael Towle -- also spoke and met with legislators at the legislative reception to encourage them to pass legislation requiring this test be given to al newborns. It made a difference.

That very week, the House Health Care Committee passed legislation instructing the Commissioner of Health to undertake a rulemaking to ensure all infants are screened for critical congenital heart defects. The House followed suit shortly thereafter and the Senate passed the legislation this week! This means the Vermont Department of Health will soon take steps to ensure all newborns are screened for heart defects.

Stay tuned as we will need your help once the rulemaking process is underway to stress the importance of pulse oximetry as the standard. Thanks!

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