Throughout the year, our blog will feature AHA volunteer stories of survival and hope. We know there are thousands of stories like these - thats why we want to say “Thanks” to all of you for giving your time and sharing your lives with us. You can’t spell CURE without U! Thank you for all you do to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. YOU’RE THE CURE!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blue Cross Report: Smoking Takes More Than 5,000 Lives, Costs Minnesota Nearly $3 Billion Annually

Report plus Great American Smokeout offer reason to quit,renew tobacco prevention efforts

EAGAN, Minn. (Nov. 17, 2010) – A new report issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross) shows thateach year, smoking is responsible for 5,135 deaths in Minnesota and $2.87 billion in excess medical costs to treat diseasescaused by smoking. The report, titled “Health Care Costs and Smoking in Minnesota,” was completed by Jeffrey Fellows,Ph.D., and a nationally known health economist from the Center for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

On the eve of the American Cancer Society’s 35th annual Great American Smokeout (Thursday, November 18),tobacco use continues to be a critical issue for Minnesota. Other studies show about 634,000 Minnesota adults still smoke asdo another 56,000 Minnesota high school students. However, the nearly $3 billion economic impact is borne by allMinnesotans. Treating the diseases and conditions related to smoking – such as cancer, emphysema and heart diseases –equates to $554 for every man, woman and child in the state. Another way to illustrate just how much taxpayers, employersand governments spend on these preventable diseases and conditions is to consider what $2.87 billion could also buy:
  • 5 Target Fields = $2.7 billion
  • 12 I-35W Bridges = $2.8 billion
  • 72,000 Jobs at $40,000 = $2.9 billion
“The human and economic costs are staggering and senseless because tobacco use is completely preventable,” saidMarc Manley, M.D., chief prevention officer for Blue Cross. “At a time when budgets are in crisis, from our kitchen tablesto the state capitol, we need to renew our focus on preventing disease. Since tobacco remains the leading preventable causeof death and disease, aggressive efforts are needed to keep youth from ever starting to smoke and to make it easier for morepeople to quit.”

Minnesota is a leader when it comes to implementing strategies to reduce the harms of tobacco. Blue Cross,alongside other Minnesota health organizations, has advocated for a smoke-free workplace law and worked to raise theprice of tobacco, protect youth from traditional and nontraditional tobacco products and offer resources to help smokersquit. Statistics indicate that these efforts are having positive effects, as Minnesota’s smoking rate has declined from 22percent in 1999 to 17 percent in 2007. Nationally, the smoking rate is about 20 percent.

Blue Cross’ member smoking rate is even lower at 11 percent. But more work remains, as the tobacco industry continues tospend millions each year marketing its products to youth, women and populations that experience health disparities,and we are seeing a concerning rise in the number of people using multiple forms of tobacco.

Blue Cross encourages smokers to use the Great American Smokeout as an opportunity to make a plan to quit, oreven quit smoking for that day. Blue Cross volunteers will be working side-by-side with student volunteers and theAmerican Cancer Society to promote the Great American Smokeout at Rosemount High School. Volunteers will beencouraging students to take the “Smokeout Pledge” to avoid tobacco use, educating students about the hazards of cigarettesmoke to positively impact their health. This is the second year Blue Cross has held this event at an area school near itsEagan headquarters.

As a health company, Blue Cross is committed to making a healthy difference in people’s lives. Blue Cross has along history of advocating for tobacco control on behalf of its members and the entire state, dating back to the 1990s whenit won a historic settlement with the tobacco companies. Some of the creative initiatives Blue Cross has deployed to tackletobacco use since then include:

• Advocating for the Freedom to Breathe law to protect all workers from the harms of secondhand smoke, as well asa health impact fee to raise the price of cigarettes and keep youth from starting to smoke

• Providing online and telephone quit services on, including tailored coaching and cessationservices for several populations that experience health disparities

• Leading a collaborative of health organizations to form Call it Quits, a fax referral system that makes it easy forphysicians to refer patients who smoke to phone-based coaching services

• Helping employers adopt tobacco-free work sites and provide access to quit medications at no cost to theiremployees

Blue Cross members have free access to stop-smoking support. Call 1-888-662-2583 (BLUE) to get started.Uninsured or underinsured Minnesotans can call QUITPLAN® Services at 1-888-354-PLAN. A copy of the economiccosts report is available at


Karen Lyons, 651-662-1415,

Pam Lux, 651-662-3959,

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, with headquarters in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan, was chartered in 1933 as Minnesota’sfirst health plan and continues to carry out its charter mission today: to promote a wider, more economical and timely availability ofhealth services for the people of Minnesota. A nonprofit, taxable organization, Blue Cross is the largest health plan based in Minnesota,covering 2.7 million members in Minnesota and nationally through its health plans or plans administered by its affiliated companies.Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, headquartered inChicago. Go to to learn more about Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Monday, November 15, 2010

2009-10 Advocacy Pulse State Legislative Wrap-Up Now Available

The American Heart Association’s advocacy team just released a special State Legislative Wrap-Up edition of the Advocacy Pulse newsletter for fiscal year 2009-10. It showcases the remarkable progress staff and volunteers across the nation have made over the past year in helping to achieve the association’s mission. The newsletter outlines advances in legislative issues that benefit heart disease and stroke patients including tobacco control, nutrition, heart and stroke public funding, emergency cardiac care and stroke systems of care, physical education, acute events and access and quality of care. Traditional association events such as Lobby Day, Heart Walks, Heart off the Hill and Go Red For Women that have educated thousands of people about heart disease and stroke are also highlighted. These policy wins wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of thousands advocates, association volunteers, donors and staff.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Editorial: Toward a fitter fighting force

Military leaders call for improved child nutrition programs.

Last update: November 10, 2010 - 6:57 PM
Star Tribune

Kids trundling through school cafeterias this Veterans Day likely don't realize that they owe a debt of gratitude to the military for the food on their lunch trays.

After too many malnourished men showed up at World War II recruiting stations, the armed forces made a mighty push for the National School Lunch Program after the war's end. But now the nation has the opposite but equally pressing problem: an obesity epidemic. Between 1995 and 2008, the military saw a nearly 70 percent increase in the proportion of recruits whose weight caused them to fail physicals. More than a quarter of potential recruits in the 17- to 24-year-old age group weigh too much to enlist.

The crisis has spurred more than 100 retired generals and admirals back into battle, this time on the public-policy front. Their call to action -- for healthier school food and programs promoting exercise and nutrition -- should be heeded by educators and parents and by Congress, which needs to act quickly to pass a critical child nutrition bill. A nation whose young people are too fat to fight, as a report from this organization of retired brass put it, is one with diminished defense capabilities, not too mention soaring health care costs. This is nothing short of a national security risk.

"The strength of our service, our military, our guarantors of security -- it's not the high tech, it's the men and women who serve,'' said retired Air Force Lt. General Norman R. Seip, who served for 35 years and is now a spokesman for Mission: Readiness, the operational name for the emeritus commanders sounding the alarm.

That so many young people are ineligible to serve is "very distressing,'' Seip said, and has repercussions in civilian life. Fitness is a critical component of a high-quality workforce that competes in a global economy and fuels prosperity on the home front.

It makes sense that these respected military leaders are targeting school cafeterias in one of their first offensives. They are pushing the U.S. House to pass a bill already approved unanimously by the Senate -- the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. If passed, this landmark legislation not only would reauthorize school and child nutrition programs, but would commit an extra $4.5 billion over the next decade to make critical improvements. It would bolster the quality of food served by instituting an increase in per-meal reimbursement -- something that hasn't happened in decades. The bill also would set national nutritional standards for foods sold at schools throughout the day -- helping push junk food and sugary drinks from campuses.

The clock is ticking on this important bill. The House needs to act before the end of the year or the policy changes will be lost. Mission: Readiness said the bill would not boost the deficit. Tapping into other programs' funds would help offset the additional spending.

Seip acknowledges that the bill is not a silver bullet for the nation's obesity epidemic. Instead, he said, it's part of the "silver buckshot" of measures that the nation needs to protect future generations. Public health programs that encourage kids and parents to adopt better eating and exercise habits outside of school are also crucial. But with 31 million children served daily in school nutrition programs, the Senate bill would definitely have an impact.

As for those who argue that the nation can no longer afford these types of programs, Seip said it's simply a matter of priorities. The battle-hardened brass of Mission: Readiness believe the nation's security is at stake. Supporting the troops this Veterans Day means enlisting in their cause.

** This Editorial can be found on the Star Tribune Website

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fat chance against fast food

A study says our kids still see lots of ads for unhealthy fast-food options.

By JEREMY OLSON, Star Tribune
Last update: November 8, 2010 - 9:25 PM

Fast-food restaurants have added carrots, yogurt and other nutritious options to their menus in the past few years. But when your family pulls into Burger King, is your child more likely to want a double cheeseburger, fries and a Dr Pepper -- or macaroni and cheese, apples (hold the caramel dip) and milk?

The answer, according to a report on fast-food marketing released Monday, is not just influenced by taste, but by a blitz of television and online marketing aimed at children and by fast-food restaurants that push unhealthy options first at their counters and drive-through windows.

The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found preschool children are exposed to 21 percent more fast-food ads than they were in 2003, and older children now see 34 percent more.

"Children really are exposed to a massive amount of marketing for lots of unhealthy foods," said Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale food policy center. "We believe that children deserve protection from that -- that government has been too lax with this, and that the companies have shown themselves to be untrustworthy when they make pledges to protect children from this."

Noting that the link between soft drinks, fast food and the nation's rising rate of child obesity is profound, Brownell said he hopes the report will cause a chain of events, from public outrage to legislative proposals that will compel the industry to improve its marketing on its own.

In a response, the National Restaurant Association said it has already taken steps, such as endorsing legislation to list calorie and nutrition information on restaurant menus.

"Healthful options in kids' meals and nutritious offerings in children's meals [are] the No. 1 food trend in quick-service restaurants," said Joy Dubost, the association's director of nutrition and healthy living.

Even so, the researchers found that of 3,039 possible kids' meal combinations studied by the team, only 36 met healthy criteria -- including calories and sodium -- for school-age children. Only 15 met healthy criteria for preschoolers. And the healthy meals were mostly variations of Subway's veggie sub (no cheese) or Burger King's macaroni and cheese.

Kids meals at the bottom of the health scale included a cheeseburger, fries, Mountain Dew and Dilly Bar at Dairy Queen and popcorn chicken, a biscuit, Mountain Dew and string cheese at KFC.

Building brand loyalty

The authors found that ads directed at children don't feature healthy or unhealthy foods all that much, because their goal is to build brand loyalty through cartoon characters and toy promotions.

But most of the ads that children actually see are directed at adults and aired during televised sports or entertainment shows such as "Glee." Those ads do promote unhealthy options and large portions, the study found.

Even when ads promote healthy options, the study found that most restaurants still offer unhealthy ones -- fries instead of yogurt, for instance -- at their counters. The researchers tested this by sending families into restaurants to see what sides and drinks were offered first.

"In most cases, you have to work very hard to get a healthy side and drink in a kids' fast-food meal," said Marlene Schwartz, a lead author of the report. "You have to know it exists and know to ask for it."

Only Subway restaurants regularly made healthier sides and drinks the first options for kids' meals, Schwartz said.

Letrice Cephus of Minneapolis doesn't bother pushing healthy sides when she takes her 15- and 10-year-old boys out for fast food on weekends. But then, she and her husband don't allow fast food during the week, even when the boys whine "I'm bored of chicken" or they hear about video game giveaways by one of the chains.

"They probably would be better off [with healthy sides], but it's like a cheat day," she said. "It's my cheat, too."

The Yale group billed Monday's findings, which can be found at, as the most comprehensive to date on the impact of marketing to children by 12 of the nation's fast-food chains.

It also studied the use of Internet banners, social media campaigns and interactive websites such as, which doesn't market food but promotes the McDonald's brand to preschoolers through games and activities.

Question of ethics?

Mary Story, co-director of the University of Minnesota's Obesity Prevention Center, said direct marketing to preschoolers, even when the Ronald website says "Hey Kids. This is advertising!" in the corner, should be considered unethical.

"Preschoolers? That's starting really young," she said. "And they're the ones who are pestering their parents to take them to the fast-food places."

The Yale study found that 40 percent of children asked to go to McDonald's weekly, and 15 percent of preschoolers asked to go every day.

Story wasn't part of the Yale study, but she served on a panel at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Denver, Colo., that introduced the findings.

Healthy choice as default

Fast-food chains could really help parents, she said, by offering healthy sides as a default for kids' meals and making people ask for fries instead. "The parents that are bringing their kids now to fast-food restaurants were the first generation to really be targeted aggressively with fast-food marketing," she said.

Kelly Haynes' 4-year-old son loves Happy Meal toys, and rips them from the box on the drive home from the McDonald's drive-through in St. Michael. His mom has bigger concerns. The only meat her son eats is McDonald's chicken nuggets, or identical store-bought nuggets. At least he loves fruit and eats McDonald's apples -- as long as Haynes remembers to ask for them.

"[I ask] every time," she said, "or they will give me fries."

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

* This article can be found on Star Tribune

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Minnesota Tobacco Control Conference

The Minnesota Department of Health and the American Lung Association are sponsoring a two day conference at the Earle Browne Center in Brooklyn Center. The meeting is free but there is limited space available. Register now for an excellent meeting.

Shifting into High Gear: The Next Decade of Tobacco Control

December 6 – 7, 2010 – Registration Now Open

It’s time to register for Minnesota ’s statewide tobacco prevention and control conference, to be held December 6 -7 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center . The conference is open to all who are interested in working to reduce the harm caused by commercial tobacco use in our state. Registration for the conference is free, but space is limited.

This conference features top-notch speakers – national, state and local leaders – who will provide the most up-to-date information on strategies designed to reduce the toll tobacco takes on Minnesotans. The speakers will also share practical ideas and tools you can put into practice in your community. Topics addressed through this conference include what’s new on cessation, secondhand smoke, youth initiation, disparities and legal fronts.

To check out the conference agenda, and to register go to

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Did You Eat for Lunch Today? START! Eating Healthy Day - November 3, 2010

Heart disease directly or indirectly affects everyone in this country — your neighbors, your loved ones, you. Beating the No. 1 killer of Americans — heart disease — doesn’t have to mean radical fad diets and crazy exercise trends that are only temporary fixes. A long life of heart health is about taking small steps each day to change how you eat and live. As those small steps add up, one day you will realize you’ve changed your life — and perhaps the lives of those you love — for the better.

The American Heart Association has started a new campaign to encourage good health called Start! Eating Healthy Day on November 3, 2010. The American Heart Association encourages everyone to choose a variety of healthy foods (in the right amounts of course) in order to cut down on heart disease. There's also tips for businesses who want to help their employees to improve their heart health.

Learn more about Eating Right here and follow the link below for some great resources to share with friends and family:

Resources for National START! Eating Healthy Day