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!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Tobacco-Free Parks Directory Launched Today!

New Tobacco-Free Parks Directory
Launched in Conjunction with
World No Tobacco Day

Website to help Minnesotans find tobacco-free parks

Tobacco-Free Youth Recreation (TFYR), a program of the Association for Nonsmokers - Minnesota (ANSR), has launched a new online directory with information about all the tobacco-free park systems in Minnesota. The database will be launched in conjunction with World No Tobacco Day on May 31, 2011. World No Tobacco Day was created by the World Health Organization in 1987, as a way to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable diseases and death it causes.

TFYR was launched in 2000 to provide assistance and information to Minnesota communities interested in adopting a tobacco-free policy for their outdoor recreation areas. Since then, a total of 136 communities have made their parks tobacco free. Due to the wealth of information about tobacco-free park systems across the state, TFYR decided to launch the directory to better serve Minnesota residents. "We often get asked about which communities have tobacco-free policies and what type of amenities are included," said Derek K. Larsen, TFYR Program Coordinator. "We felt this directory would be a great way for the public to find tobacco-free recreation facilities where they live." According to TFYR, approximately 70% of the state's population is covered by a tobacco-free park policy as well as 90% of residents in the 7-county Twin Cities metro area.

The directory can be found at and includes a variety of search options for residents to find many tobacco-free recreation amenities such as beaches, athletic fields, playgrounds, and trails. "Many of the questions we received are from people who live in an area without coverage and want to know where they can take their families and enjoy a healthy afternoon in a beautiful park system," Larsen said. "This database will make it so much easier for them to find a healthy place to play."

Please share this information with friends and co-workers to let everyone know about this exciting new service. If you have any questions about the new directory or if you would like to let us know what you think please contact Derek K. Larsen at or 651-646-3005.

About Tobacco-Free Youth Recreation
Tobacco-Free Youth Recreation assists Twin Cities metro area communities in adopting tobacco-free policies for their park areas. If there are any questions about tobacco-free parks, please contact Brittany McFadden, Tobacco-Free Youth Recreation director at (651) 646-3005 or, or go to

Tobacco-Free Youth Recreation's directory was made possible through funding the Tobacco-Free Communities (TFC) grant program of the Minnesota Department of Health.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Innovative public-private partnership helps Minnesota schools tackle childhood obesity through changes in the cafeteria

May 24, 2011

Federally funded Great Trays Partnership provides training to help schools buy and prepare nutritious foods

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and seven public and private partners are collaborating to bring more nutritious, kid-friendly foods into school cafeterias across the state. The Great Trays Partnership, funded by a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides training and tools to help schools statewide improve their menus and help kids eat healthier meals.

Great Trays efforts are a critical strategy to fight rising childhood obesity rates, which have tripled over the past three decades. Poor nutrition and obesity put children at risk for lifelong struggles with health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

"Obesity is one of the most urgent health challenges facing our state and nation today," said Jim Koppel, Minnesota Deputy Commissioner of Health. "Minnesota students consume up to half of their calories at school. Great Trays is helping ensure that those food choices are healthy and taste good."

To accomplish this work, MDH has partnered with the Minnesota Departments of Agriculture, Education and Human Services, as well as the Minnesota School Nutrition Association, the Minnesota School Food Buying Group, University of Minnesota Extension and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The Great Trays Partnership works to train school staff to prepare foods using more Minnesota-grown foods from the farm – and to help overcome equipment and cost barriers that make it hard for many schools to cook with fresh foods.

"Many schools don’t even have the right equipment to prepare and provide local foods and fresh fruits and vegetables," said Stephanie Heim, Farm to School coordinator at University of Minnesota Extension. "Nearly three-quarters of school food service leaders surveyed said they could provide more local foods if they had better equipment, such as wedgers, food processors and knives."

The partnership also works to help schools join food-buying cooperatives to make buying nutritious foods more affordable.

Great Trays held initial workshops last winter and will hold another round in June that train school cooks and menu planners in food preparation techniques to do more cooking from scratch and use more farm-fresh, Minnesota-grown foods.

School nutrition staff representing more than a thousand schools have participated in Great Trays initiatives thus far. These efforts are more important than ever as schools prepare for stricter federal nutrition standards that require lower levels of sodium and saturated fats.

"Great Trays has given me fresh ideas and tools so that I am able to begin menu planning for next year," said Lyn Halvorson, school nutrition director for Winona Area Public Schools. "The more people on the team that have the latest information, the more successful the transition will be to the new nutrition standards."

Great Trays is making a similar impact in schools across the state.

"We are experimenting with new menu items that are delicious and healthy, and our students are excited to try the new flavors," said Debra LaBounty, president of the Minnesota School Nutrition Association. "Our students learn lifelong habits in school, so increasing these options for healthy foods will have long-term benefits for their health."

To see examples of school lunch successes across the state and to get more information on Great Trays, please see


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Minneapolis-St. Paul tops a list of the healthiest U.S. cities

People in Minneapolis-St. Paul have lower obesity rates and exercise more, which helped to put the Twin Cities at the top of the annual American Fitness Index that ranks the healthiest U.S. cities. The index from the American College of Sports Medicine puts Washington, D.C., and Boston next on the list; Oklahoma City ranked 50th because its population had higher rates of smoking and did not exercise enough or get enough fruits and vegetables.

By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY (5/23)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stroke: It Can Happen To Anyone

Public News Service-MN

May 23, 2011

Stroke: It Can Happen To Anyone

MINNEAPOLIS - May is Stroke Awareness Month, and the American Stroke Association wants people to know the warning signs of stroke - and that it can hit anyone at any age.

April 11, 2009, is a day Kaela Gedda will never forget. She woke up with some numbness in her arm, but didn't think much of it. She had no idea the numbness was the first sign of a stroke, so she went to work - and things started getting worse.

"When I tried to walk to the break room, 'cause I was at work, it was about 15 feet away, and I could hardly walk. I had to lean up against the wall - and I still didn't know what was going on. I tried eating a banana, and when I couldn't even open the banana I knew that something was really wrong with me."

Kaela called her mother, who took her to the hospital. There, she was told she was having a stroke. Kaela says her experience points out stroke can happen to anyone.

"I was 19 years old, I've been dancing since I was 3, I'm on the dance team at St. Norbert, very healthy, active - and - it happened to me."

No matter how old or young you are, Kaela says, you need to know the signs of stroke: sudden numbness or weakness, sudden confusion or trouble understanding, sudden vision problems, sudden dizziness, loss of balance or trouble walking, or sudden severe headache of unknown cause.

If you experience any of those symptoms, Kaela says, you should call 911 immediately, and check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared. If the clot-busting drug tPA is given within three hours of the onset, it can help reduce long-term disability. She says a stroke can happen to anyone.

"It seems like it might be for your grandma or your grandpa who are 70, 80 years old, but it can be a young woman, it can be a college basketball player, it can be someone walking their dog, or just sitting at an office at work."

Stroke is the nation's third-leading cause of death. About 800,000 strokes occur every year in the United States, and the American Stroke Association says that knowing the warning signs and taking immediate action can be the difference between life and death.

Learn more about stroke at

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Top 10 Reasons to Support American Heart Association Advocacy Work

Help the Minnesota Advocacy Team reach our goal of raising $10,000 to support our advocacy work! Join our You’re the Cure Advocacy Heart Walk Team or make a donation today!

Top 10 reasons to support American Heart Association advocacy work with a donation today:

  1. Keep our Freedom to Breathe! American Heart Association played a key role in passing the Freedom to Breathe Act in 2007 and we’ve been fighting to keep our law strong ever since.
  2. Leadership on Policy to Address Childhood Obesity! In 2008 we formed the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition and continue to lead the coalition. In 2009 we helped form the legislative working group working to tackle childhood obesity.
  3. Passed the Healthy Kids Act in 2010! This Act created statewide standards for phy-ed as well as established a new Healthy Kids Awards program to encourage schools to promote healthy food and more physical activity.
  4. Keep Tobacco Out of Our Kids’ Hands! In 2010 we passed the Tic Tac Tobacco Act—requiring new, candy-like tobacco products to be sold behind the counter and banning their sale to minors.
  5. Strengthen Rural Stroke Care Access! We are leading efforts along with the Minnesota Department of Health to ensure that every Minnesotan gets the best stroke care possible regardless of where they live.
  6. Heart on the Hill! This annual event brings volunteers together with their lawmakers at the Capitol. This year, along with our coalition partners, we brought 400 constituents together with 2/3 of the Legislature to educate them on tobacco policy.
  7. Invest in Prevention! We helped pass the visionary Statewide Health Improvement Program in 2008 and continue to fight this year for continuation of the program. The current $47 million investment in local community strategies to address obesity and reduce tobacco use could reduce health care costs in Minnesota by $1.9 billion by 2015.
  8. Promote Lifesaving CPR Training! In 2008 we passed legislation to ensure that when schools offer CPR instruction, they include the hands-on training. This year we have supported legislation to ensure proper training of daycare providers. Next year we will hold a Hands-Only CPR training for the Legislature and their staff at the Capitol.
  9. Promote Health Equity! This year we helped bring over 50 advocates to the State Capitol to promote solutions to the health disparities among Minnesota communities.
  10. Ensure Access to Physical Activity! In 2010 we helped pass Complete Streets legislation that helps ensure access to safe walking/biking routes in our communities. This year we have a bill to help ensure school facilities are more accessible to community members.
Walk with Us! Join Team You’re the Cure for the Twin Cities Heart Walk
Join our You’re the Cure Heart Walk team and walk with fellow advocates in taking a stand against heart disease and helping save lives! The walk is happening on Saturday, June 4th at Target Field. Follow this link to join our team and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you are not able to join our heart walk team this year, please consider supporting us with a donation. We look forward to walking with you on June 4th!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

National Study Underscores Importance of Minnesota's Health Initiatives

Public News Service-MN
May 12, 2011, from Public News Service-MN

ROCHESTER, Minn. - Children in Minnesota and nationwide have too much access to screen time, sugary beverages and junk food, according to a national report. A Minnesota program already is doing what the report suggests to combat the problem - but its funding is set to expire.

The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests providing better support to communities, child-care facilities and schools to ensure that youngsters have access to healthy foods and exercise.

Minnesota has a head start in this effort thanks to the Statewide Health Improvement Plan (SHIP), a bipartisan initiative launched in 2008. Stephanie Heim, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Minnesota Dietetic Association, says SHIP is a community-based program that helps make the healthy choice the easy choice.

"We know that it's the individual's responsibility to make healthy choices, but we also know that the environment in which they live really impacts the choices they are able to make. So, for example, kids may know it's important to eat fresh fruits and vegetables - but if their school isn't offering fresh fruits and vegetables, then how are they going to get those throughout the day?"

Promoting community gardens, Farm to School initiatives and safe walking paths to school are some of the many ways SHIP helps communities create healthier environments, Heim says. However, despite being an innovative health program that has captured national attention, SHIP's funding is scheduled to expire June 30.

Heim says SHIP also is addressing adult health through initiatives in the workplace.

"We're making it easier for adults in their workplace to make healthier choices through work-site initiatives, or CSA boxes being dropped off at the workplace so employees can get fresh fruits and vegetables to take home to their families."

By 2015, Heim says, SHIP could move an additional 10 percent of Minnesota adults into a normal weight range and help 6 percent of the adult population kick the smoking habit, which would save the state an estimated $1.9 billion in health-care costs.

The CDC report is online at More information on SHIP is at

Click here to view this story on the Public News Service RSS site and access an audio version of this and other stories:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Food Support Expands Access to Minnesota Farmers' Markets

Public News Service-MN

May 06, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - As many farmers' markets across the state open for the season this weekend, more Minnesota families will have access to fresh, locally grown food. Several markets will now accept payment from the federal food support program, or "food stamps," thanks to a joint effort between state agencies, farmers' markets and local foundations.

Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson explains that technology has previously been a challenge for farmers' markets in accepting the debit cards used by food-stamp recipients.

"Our Minnesota Department of Agriculture is working with the markets so many of them can get wireless card readers. While it will differ a little bit depending on what market someone goes to, having these readers is going to make everything easier, both for the sellers as well as for the people purchasing the food."

Thirteen markets across the state will accept food stamps. Some, including Midtown in Minneapolis and downtown Rochester, offer matching dollar incentives so that food support recipients can increase their purchasing power, Jesson says. Based on the calls they're getting, she says that by the end of 2011 there may be dozens of farmers' markets accepting food stamps.

While this is great news for all Minnesotans who rely on food support, says Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, it's especially important for seniors to have access to fresh produce.

"We know that the better nutrition they have, the better their medication works, the longer they can stay in their homes, the lower their health-care costs are, so it's really a multiplier benefit for the community and to the people who are using SNAP."

Jesson says more low-income Minnesotans now are eligible for food support.

"We eliminated the asset limit for food support, and increased the income limit. So folks that didn't think they were eligible for this important program may now be eligible. So I want to just get the word out to people about that, especially now as they can use those dollars to shop at farmer's markets."

For more information and to find out whether you qualify, call the Minnesota Food Helpline at 1-888-711-1151. A list of participating farmers' markets is online at

Click here to view this story on the Public News Service RSS site and access an audio version of this and other stories:

Monday, May 2, 2011

May 2011 Minnesota Policy Update

The Minnesota Legislative Session enters the home stretch with a May 23rd date for adjournment. You will see action alerts from us in the coming weeks as final budget negotiations wind down and the legislature finalizes any policy bills. This is final decision time for the legislature—this is when it is most important for us to be communicating with legislators. TAKE ACTION when you see alerts from us in the coming weeks. We will keep you up to date on developments if the Legislature/Governor do not finish their business on time and a special session is required. We will continue to keep you updated on our progress.

Thank you for your continued support!
Anne, Justin and Rachel

Policy Updates:

Minnesota Budget Showdown: The budget battle between the Governor and Legislature is far from over and although both House & Senate leaders have insisted that they will have a balanced budget by the May 23rd deadline, they couldn’t be much further apart from the Governor’s proposal. Governor Dayton’s Budget (released on Feb. 15th) included $700 million in cuts, but relied heavily on increasing taxes on the richest few percent of Minnesotans. The GOP controlled Legislature has vowed to balance the over $5 billion shortfall by spending cuts alone and not raising taxes.

The biggest set of proposed cuts is to Health & Human Services and would affect tens of thousands in Minnesota. For example:
  • The Senate bill would dramatically restructure public health insurance in Minnesota. Participants in Medical Assistance (MA) and all MinnesotaCare enrollees would lose their health care coverage and would instead be provided with a set amount to purchase coverage in the private market. These low-income individuals would likely face higher out-of-pocket costs for premiums, deductibles and copayments. The proposal is projected to save over $600 million but requires approval from the federal government. The Minnesota Department of Human Services believes the state is unlikely to receive that permission, meaning the state may not achieve the expected savings in the general fund.

The need to cut services like these could be limited with an increase in the state tobacco tax, which in addition to garnering a savings to the state of $1.3 billion in health care costs, can also bring $128 million into the state coffers each year.

School Liability/Joint Use legislation (HF1343/SF1068) spearheaded by American Heart Association has advanced through two legislative committees. This legislation seeks to make it easier for schools to open their facilities to outside groups and community members by clarifying the liability requirements and limits for schools. Research has shown that people who have parks or recreational facilities nearby exercise 38 percent more than those who do not have easy access. The bill will have two additional hearings in final House and Senate committees. While the budget is taking center stage, we hope this is one of the few proactive policy measures to pass the Legislature this year.

New resource on the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) —one of our top priorities this session is to fund SHIP. SHIP was established as part of Minnesota’s 2008 health care reform law. This forward-thinking investment promotes healthier behaviors and reduces health care costs over the long term by tackling obesity and tobacco use at the local community level. AHA seeks to continue stable funding for this bipartisan and visionary program. New fact sheets detailing each local program are now available on the Minnesota Department of Health website.

Update on our three-pronged approach to tobacco policy this year:

  • So far we have successfully defended Freedom to Breathe. While bills have been introduced to weaken the law, they have not been heard in committee and we have not seen amendments on the floor. Thanks to strong grassroots pressure, legislators are hearing the message loud and clear—“Don’t weaken Freedom to Breathe!” Let’s keep the pressure strong through the remainder of the session.
  • Protect kids from little cigars that are identical to cigarettes but cost less and come in “candy” flavors like grape, chocolate, and peach. HF743/SF493 would close a loophole in the law that allows these “little cigars” to be sold at half the price as cigarettes, which makes them more accessible to kids. Our bill has been heard in the Senate Tax Committee and awaits a hearing in House Tax Committee.
  • Increase the Price of Tobacco—this strategy has been proven to be one of the most effective strategies to reduce youth smoking, help smokers quit, and save health care dollars. While our coalition has not introduced a bill, we have been planting the seeds with legislators that this would be a good strategy in the final budget deal. Increasing the price of tobacco by $1.50 per pack could raise $128 million per year, prevent 60,000 kids from becoming smokers, and help 28,000 adults quit smoking. This is a win-win for the state and should be included in the final budget package.

April Recap:

Minnesota Heart on the Hill Day at the Capitol a Success

Our Heart on the Hill Day at the Capitol in conjunction with the Raise it for Health coalition was held on April 7. This was one of our biggest events yet, with more than 400 people in attendance! Thanks to our advocates who attended, we were able to hold constituent meetings with two-thirds of the Minnesota legislature advocating on three tobacco issues – defending Freedom to Breathe, passing the “Little Cigar Bill” and encouraging legislators to increase the price of tobacco. Watch the Day at the Capitol video here and for photo and more information on the day, visit our blog.

Minnesota Advocates Hit Capitol Hill

On April 11 and 12th the American Heart Association held its Federal Lobby Day in Washington D.C. Minnesota was well represented by volunteer advocates Stevie Nelson, Mark Olson and Jack Olwell, as well as Heart Association staff Justin Bell and Heather Shetka. We were there to meet with our members of congress to ask for their support increasing NIH funding for heart disease and stroke research, the FIT Kids Act and Safe Routes to Schools. Read more here…

Walk with Us! Join Team You’re the Cure for the Twin Cities Heart Walk

Join our You’re the Cure Heart Walk team and walk with fellow advocates in taking a stand against heart disease and helping save lives! The walk is happening on Saturday, June 4th at Target Field. Follow this link to join our team and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you are not able to join our heart walk team this year, please consider supporting us with a donation. We look forward to walking with you on June 4th!

Stroke continues to be a leading cause of death in Minnesota

May 2, 2011

Stroke continues to be a leading cause of death in Minnesota

Health officials urge Minnesotans to learn the signs and symptoms of stroke during National Stroke Awareness Month in May

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in Minnesota, with 2,023 deaths in 2009, according to new data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The data from 2009 also show that:

* More than 90,000 Minnesotans, or 2.3 percent of adults, reported having had a stroke.
* Minnesotans were hospitalized more than 11,000 times for stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
* The total inpatient charges for stroke-related hospitalizations were over $367 million, or more than $31,000 per hospitalization.
* Only 55 percent of Minnesota adults could correctly identify all five major signs and symptoms of stroke.

A stroke is a "brain attack" that occurs when blood flow to tissues in the brain is interrupted. Strokes can lead to permanent disability and death. To help raise awareness about stroke in Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton has proclaimed May as Stroke Awareness Month in Minnesota.

Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health, urged Minnesotans to learn the warning signs and symptoms of stroke.

"When it comes to strokes, we say that time lost is brain lost," Ehlinger said. "That's why it is so important for Minnesotans to know the signs and symptoms of stroke and to call 9-1-1 at the first sign of symptoms."

The signs and symptoms of stroke are:

* sudden confusion or trouble speaking.
* sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side.
* sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
* sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance.
* sudden severe headache with no known cause.

If you think that you or someone else is having a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately.

More information about stroke and its risk factors is available from MDH's Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention Unit at

For more information on the signs and symptoms of stroke and access to resources for stroke survivors, please visit the Minnesota Stroke Association's website at

For more information about cardiovascular diseases and stroke, visit the Minnesota Affiliate of the American Heart Association's website at Health professionals looking for more information on how to conduct stroke community education events can find resources at the Minnesota Stroke Partnership's website at


For more information, contact:

John Stieger, MDH Communications 651-201-4993
Stan Shanedling, Heart Disease/Stroke Prevention 651-201-5408