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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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Thanks to You, Vermont Will Be a Leader in Setting State Nutrition Standards!

The House this week just gave its final approval to legislation that will require all Vermont state agencies to follow nutrition standards for the food they sell or serve. Now its off to the Governor for his signature! 

Thanks to you for getting us there!

Legislation we’ve been promoting this session to require state agencies in Vermont to follow nationally recognized nutrition standards for the food they sell in food service, vending and institutions had stalled in the House after passing the Senate. However, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee amended a House-passed bill, H.812, to include our nutrition standards legislation. The Senate gave its approval to the measure early in the week and the House followed suit giving its blessing to the Senate changes yesterday.

This is great news in our effort to bend the curve on obesity and address diet-related diseases in Vermont! Once the governor signs it, we'll have a great new law that sets state government as a role model to other businesses in making the healthy choice the easy choice.

We couldn't have done it without you!


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Winning the Fight Against E-Cigs in Vermont

Thanks to the hard work by many volunteers like you, the Governor will soon be signing legislation into law that would prevent e-cigarettes from being used any place smoking is currently prohibited in Vermont!

The Vermont House on April 26th, gave its approval to the changes made to the bill by the Senate. This was the last step needed before the Governor can sign the bill into law.  

This was a long process that was debated quite a bit this session. Our goal with the bill was to ensure social norms against smoking were not eroded, to protect Vermont kids as use of this unregulated protect is growing exponentially, and to ensure Vermont’s clean indoor air laws remain strong!

A special thanks to volunteer Jan Carney who was an invaluable resource during testimony on this issue, to the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility who reached out to the Senate Health and Welfare committee at a critical point and noted, “H.171 is a step toward a healthier future for Vermonters,” to the House Human Services Committee for giving the issue so much time before their committee and to senators’ impassioned statements on the floor such as the one by Senator *** McCormack who commented during an effort to roll back restrictions on smoking, “I think it’s important to fight for rights, but the right to smoke is not one of them.”

 Great work everyone and thanks for your help!

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AHA President Says: The Science is Clear on Sodium Reduction

Check this out! In a new video, the President of the AHA, Dr. Mark Creager, explains that the science behind sodium reduction is clear. He says that robust evidence has linked excess sodium intake with high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. And, he points out that you can do something about it: join AHA’s efforts to demand change in the amounts of sodium in our food supply.

“Nearly 80 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods” says AHA president Dr. Mark Creager. The video shows the 6 foods that contribute the most salt to the American diet: breads & rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches."

To see the video, head over to our Sodium Breakup blog!

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Urge House Human Services Committee to Support Nutrition Standards for State Government

We've made great progress in moving legislation through the Senate that would require nutrition standards for food sold and served by Vermont state agencies. But we need your help in urging a House committee to advance this legislation, S.196. If Vermont enacts this measure, we'd be the first state in the country to set standards for food sold by the state in vending, food service and institutions. That would be terrific news in our efforts in trying to reduce diet-related diseases and obesity.

  • Government needs to walk-the-walk to serve as a role model for other businesses in the state to assure access to healthy foods and beverages and address diet-related diseases.
  • In the United States, obesity and diet-related disease cost $190 billion annually in health care costs. Vermont spends approximately $290 million each year.
  • About half of those costs are paid by Medicare and Medicaid.
  • The other costs are paid by businesses and individual citizens.
  • Obesity-related chronic diseases are projected to sky-rocket if current trends continue. The Robert Wood Johnson Annual State of Obesity report shows Vermont’s 38,000 cases of heart disease will climb to 190,000 in the next 15 years if we don’t act now.
  • Providing healthier food options on public property is a sensible, low-cost chronic disease prevention strategy.
  • Healthy vending practices could help to decrease health care costs and lost productivity due to chronic diseases.
  • Healthy vending on public property supports and models healthy eating.
  • Consumer choice is changing and vendors need to keep pace. A Vermont Department of Health 2015 survey of state employees found:
    • 89% preferred healthy foods in their diet always or as often as possible
    • 75% said they would be willing to spend more for healthier options if they were available in the building

Please let House Human Services Committee members know this issue is important to you! Contact them at:

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Tessa Daniels Urges Lawmakers to Require a Test that Saved Her Son

Springfield mom Tessa Daniels, with 2 ½ year old son Sawyer and family in tow, urged House Health Care Committee members recently to pass legislation that would require all birthing facilities in Vermont to require a test that helped save her son’s life right after he was born.

Tessa had an uneventful delivery in 2013 but six hours later a nurse didn’t think baby Sawyer looked right and performed a pulse oximetry test. This test, which involves a simple clip to the finger or toe and senses blood oxygen levels, helped physicians detect a critical heart defect of Sawyer’s which would have been fatal had it gone undiagnosed.

Tessa told committee members that requiring the test which costs around $4, would ensure no Vermont newborn would leave a Vermont hospital with an undiagnosed heart defect.

Join the American Heart Association, Tessa and husband Elijah along with Sawyer and his sister Penelope at our legislative reception from 4:00-6:00pm on Wednesday, April 13th at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. We’ll promote pulse oximetry legislation as well as legislation to set nutrition standards for food sold by state government and raise the purchasing age for tobacco to 21.

And urge House Health Care Committee members to pass the pulse oximetry bill soon! You can contact committee members at

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Mom Tells Health Care Committee To Take Up Heart Defect Screening Bill Now

Vermont AHA volunteer Kathryn Towle is also the mom of a toddler with a critical congenital heart defect. She took action recently to urge House Health Care Committee members to take up H.639, legislation to require birthing facilities in Vermont to screen infant for congenital heart defects using a simple pulse oximetry test. Her story is below.

As the mother of a son born with a Congenital Heart Defect on June 19, 2012, I strongly support the mandating of pulse oximetry testing of newborns in Vermont. My son struggled to breathe due to his multiple heart defects, and with such a strain on his heart and lungs for his first few months of life, he was hospitalized for various respiratory infections including RSV, Bronchitis, and Flu. We suffered through multiple transports via ambulance from our home to the Vermont Children’s Hospital, one trip of which being on Christmas Day when he was lethargic due to lack of oxygen getting to his brain. 

This could have been addressed and prevented if he had proper screening upon birth.
Rather, at his 3 month check up, his Pediatrician noted what he thought was a heart murmur, and recommended that we see a Pediatric Cardiologist at the UVM Medical Center to have it checked out. About 1 month later when we were able to see the Cardiologist and one of the first few screenings they did upon arrival and check in was the quick and painless pulse oximetry or “Glow Toe,” as Jack calls it now, indicated a slightly lower level of oxygen than would be in the typical range for a 4 month old baby, which demonstrated a problem before his Echocardiogram or his one hour long ultrasound of his heart and lungs.

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. Jack wasn’t able to have a “traditional” first year of milestones; pushing yourself up at 3 months, sitting up at 6 months, walking at 12 months. Each of these milestones was not achievable for my son while his little heart was working at double the capacity to only perform its function and there was no additional capacity for the things he should have been accomplishing.

My family is blessed that research and medical efforts exist to have repaired my son’s heart and now he is an amazing 3 year old little boy attending Preschool with his peers. He may be smaller than his classmates, but his spirit and intelligence is amazing and makes my husband and myself so proud every day. If Pulse oximetry screening is supported by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, the March of Dimes, the Department of Health and Human Services and many other health organizations, I fully support making this test a mandatory screening procedure in the State of Vermont.

I commend the hospitals that are already screening infants with pulse oximetry.  But without a requirement, there is always the chance that a baby could slip the cracks undetected, and that would be one baby too many. No parent should ever have to bring their child home undetected when we know there is this inexpensive, life-saving tool. I pray that requiring this simple test will prevent the experience that we went through for many other families.

You can take action as well by contacting House Health Care Committee members and urging them to take up this important legislation soon. Members can be reached at:

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Vermont Experts Say Funding Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Are Critical

The following guest editorial which appeared in Vermont Digger on February 28, 2016 by current and former chairs of the Vermont Tobacco Evaluation and Review Board stresses the importance of restoring funding to Vermont’s Tobacco Control Program.

Independent evaluation a worthwhile cost

This commentary is an open letter to Gov. Peter Shumlin and Vermont legislators from current and former Tobacco Evaluation and Review Board chairs, including current chair Amy Brewer, M.P.H., and former chairs John Hughes, M.D., 2003-2004; Martha Ide, R.N., 2005-2006; Ted Marcy, M.D., M.P.H., 2007-2008; and Brian Flynn, Sc.D., 2009-2014.

Dear Governor and Vermont Lawmakers;

We urge you to restore evaluation funding for Vermont’s Tobacco Evaluation and Review Board and Tobacco Control Program. The independent evaluation is an important basic contributor to the program’s success. The independent evaluator has provided evidence about the overall level of program effectiveness in reducing the burden of tobacco-related diseases and specific recommendations about how to allocate and focus resources within the tobacco control program.

The independent evaluator (RTI International) has shown that Vermont realized a total of $1.43 billion in savings that it otherwise would have spent on smoking-related health care costs – paid by Vermont citizens, health plans and the state of Vermont – had we not seen the decreases in smoking since the Tobacco Control Program began 15 years ago. Savings on tobacco-related health care spending in the past year alone were estimated to be $185 million less than the projected spending had smoking rates remained unchanged during this time.

The independent evaluation showed, further, that substantial proportions of these savings were due directly to the Vermont’s modest investment in tobacco control programs, such as quit programs and media messages, independent of the effects of tobacco tax increases and smoke-free laws. The independent evaluation has shown that Vermont’s Tobacco Control Program is an example of a small investment in government spending on prevention that is reducing the very high costs of chronic diseases in Vermont.

Independent evaluation of the Tobacco Control Program is a powerful way to ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of the overall program and the Vermonters it serves without regard to shorter term considerations. As we have seen in the past, when the independent evaluator makes recommendations based on program performance, changes have been made for the better. Examples included:

• Increasing the emphasis on policies and programs affecting lower income populations
• Redesigning the in-person cessation counseling service due to high costs and low fidelity
• Acting to prevent implementation of expensive, low reach programs that did not have evidence of effectiveness
• Reallocating funds among the three tobacco control program entities (Agency of Education, Department of Health, Department of Liquor Control).
• Recognizing the value and effectiveness of media campaigns such as the “8 out of 10” campaign that changed teens misperceptions regarding the social norms of smoking among their peers.

Vermont leaders realized the tremendous burden smoking was placing on state health care spending and wisely created Vermont’s comprehensive Tobacco Control Program in 2001 to provide resources for smokers to quit, educate youth about the dangers of smoking and change Vermont’s environment where smoking is no longer an accepted norm. Just as wise was the decision to provide the Vermont Tobacco Evaluation and Review Board with the resources to conduct an independent evaluation of the program each year to find out what works best about the program and what might need tweaking.

Without this important evaluation funding, the effectiveness of the program is at risk. Throwing money at a problem and hoping it works is never good. When it is state government that is doing the spending, evaluating state programs to ensure the best use of state funds should be critical. The current administration and Legislature have realized this notion by placing great emphasis in recent years on results based accountability. The evaluation of Vermont’s Tobacco Control Program is an example of results based accountability at its finest.

As we have seen in the past, when the independent evaluator makes recommendations based on program performance, changes have been made for the better.

The elimination of evaluation funds for the program included in the governor’s budget is a grave concern and will definitely negatively impact the program. The funding previously allocated to the Vermont Tobacco Evaluation was used by RTI to review how all the program components integrate and how effective, for instance, the community coalitions and media run through the Vermont Department of Health, integrated with the curriculum and work with youth through the Agency of Education and the enforcement provided by the Department of Liquor Control. Eliminating independent evaluation of the program and trying to realize savings by having a state agency evaluate the program internally will not adequately address the needs of the overall program and the interests of the state in further reducing tobacco related disease and health care costs.

State Sen. Dianne Snelling, a Senate Appropriations Committee member, stated the root of the issue quite well during discussion of the issue last year when she said, “You need someone outside state government to say if a program is working.” We agree.

Tobacco is still the No. 1 most preventable killer and driver of health care costs. Achieving sustainable health care funding goals will be even more challenging without addressing tobacco use as effectively as possible. Please restore the $291,127 allocation for independent evaluation of the tobacco control program to maintain an effective focus on this problem that has resulted in many diseases and deaths averted, and dollars saved.


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Dr. Jan Carney Says UVM Experience is a Good Reason to Include E-Cigs in Clean Indoor Air Laws

American Heart Association Board Member and Dean of Public Health at the UVM College of Medicine, Dr. Jan Carney testified before legislators and spoke at a legislative panel last month urging lawmakers to include a ban on e-cigarettes in the same areas that smoking is prevented under Vermont’s Clean Indoor Air laws.

Dr. Carney noted that UVM’s Tobacco-Free Policy took effect on the campus on August 1, 2015 and defines Tobacco-Free as prohibiting the use of all forms of tobacco, including e-cigarettes.

“From a campus-wide survey conducted last fall,” said Carney, “we learned that more than 25% of freshman undergraduates used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days and underclassmen were nearly 3 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than upperclassmen.”

“In a follow-up survey conducted a year later, and only about 3 months after the policy was implemented, we have already seen a significant decrease in reported exposure to second-hand smoke, and a significant decrease in tobacco use in undergraduate students. This speaks volumes to the strength of tobacco and e-cigarette-free policies in promoting a non-smoking norm. In our case, it happened after only 3 months.”

Carney urged lawmakers to pass H.171 to include e-cigarettes in Vermont’s Clean Indoor Air Laws because the secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes is not harmless water vapor. It contains nicotine, particles, irritants, and potential carcinogens.

Please urge your legislators to support H.171 by clicking on the following link.

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Jane Kolodinsky - Good food sells!

Telling legislators that french fries are the most common vegetable served to toddlers, AHA volunteer Jane Kolodinsky urged Senate Health and Welfare Committee members at a recent hearing to implement nutrition standards for restaurant kids meals.

Jane, the chair of UVM’s Department of Community Development and Applied economics, has published research on childhood obesity. Among her findings?  Going out to eat isn’t just a treat for families anymore. Away-from-home food accounts for nearly half of all food dollars spent. Improving the nutrition of that food can make a difference in the fight against obesity.

And does good food sell? You bet. Jane reported to the committee that a recent survey conducted about the nutrition improvements that were made in the food service at the UVM Medical Center found that the hospital now gets 14% of its business from people coming from outside the hospital just for the great food!

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