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!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ask Your Legislators to Consider the Harmful Effects on Minnesotans’ Health and our Children’s Future

Yesterday, Governor Dayton and Republican legislative leaders agreed to a “framework” for a budget agreement. The deal is built on the Republicans’ pre-shutdown proposal which included borrowing on future tobacco settlement payments ($700 million) and delaying payments to school districts ($700 million).

This is unfortunate news for all Minnesotans. While we understand and support a fast resolution to the state government shutdown and the current political stalemate, securitizing Minnesota’s tobacco settlement funds and borrowing from K-12 education is not an acceptable solution when in fact there is another option to help relieve the budget pressures. A $1.50 increase in the price of tobacco would raise $400 million over the biennium without sacrificing the incredible progress we’ve made to counter tobacco’s influence in Minnesota.

Legislators will be finalizing the budget bills over the weekend and early next week to fit within the “framework” they have agreed upon. The Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) will be part of this final negotiation. 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. As the Legislature and Governor negotiate the final details of their deal over the weekend and early next week, we ask you to contact lawmakers and tell them:

  1. you support increasing the price of tobacco as a partial solution to relieving the budget pressures; and

  2. you urge them to fund the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) to save lives and reduce health care costs.
Raising the price of tobacco would not only be a part of the budget solution but it is also estimated to save 61,700 Minnesotan kids from becoming smokers. Moreover, making a small investment of state dollars, SHIP tackles the two biggest public health problems Minnesotans face – obesity and tobacco use. With projected health care savings of $1.9 billion by 2015, SHIP is clearly part of the solution. Eliminating funding for SHIP now would erase the promise of real health care cost reductions.

Tell your lawmakers and the Governor that increasing the price of tobacco is a more fiscally responsible way to address our budget problems and funding prevention is the smart strategy to reduce health care costs over the long term.

Take action today, your voice matters!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gibbons Named Gold Heart Award Winner

Raymond Gibbons, M.D.,also received the Gold Heart award. Gibbons, the Arthur M. and Gladys D. Gray Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn., was the association’s president in 2006-07, and has been an association volunteer since 1983. In 2003 and 2004, he chaired the Program Committee for the association’s Scientific Sessions, the world’s premier cardiovascular science conference.

A tireless advocate for evidence based medicine, Dr. Gibbons has provided critical advice on the association’s behalf to agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As president, Ray made healthcare reform a priority and provided vital support for advocacy efforts.

Fantastic work, and congratulations on this award, Ray!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Latest Budget News: Governor's latest proposal includes tobacco price increase

This week Governor Dayton included a $1 cigarette price increase in his latest offer to legislators. This is the first time in this government shutdown that a tobacco price increase has been included in a budget proposal. Raising the price will save Minnesotans’ lives and money, and we have been hoping to see this idea proposed as a common-sense compromise. As we’ve said before, this is a WIN – WIN – WIN!

Unfortunately, Legislative leaders rejected the proposal and the shutdown wages on. We know that increasing the price of tobacco is a popular with the public – Democrats and Republicans alike – and that it should be part of a bipartisan solution.

Make sure your lawmakers know they have your support to increase the price of tobacco and save lives in Minnesota. Contact your legislators today and let them know this is a WIN-WIN-WIN for Minnesota!

WIN: Protects Kids

* Raising the price of tobacco is one of the most effective ways to keep kids from using tobacco Estimated to save 61,700 Minnesota kids from becoming smokers. That’s about the number of kids currently enrolled in 8th grade in Minnesota!

WIN: Protects Health

* Raising the price of tobacco is one of the most effective ways to encourage tobacco users to quit. In fact a mere $1 increase will help more than 28,000 Minnesotans to quit smoking
* Avoid over 18,000 smoking-related deaths in the future

WIN: Provides Revenue

* Raises $283 million in this budget for new state revenue One of the public’s preferred methods for helping reach a budget compromise

A new public opinion poll conducted by the Raise it for Health coalition determined that nearly three out of five Minnesotans support a tobacco price increase.

You can also send a note to Governor Dayton and thank him for including the tobacco price increase as part of his budget solution and encourage him to stand strong on this issue.

Your overwhelming support is already starting to pay off as an increase in the price of tobacco has become part of the budget conversation. Please keep sharing your viewpoint and thank you for using your voice to support a WIN – WIN – WIN for Minnesota!

Thanks for your continued support on this very important issue.

MN Advocacy Team

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A new weapon in the war on weight

Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune Updated: June 29, 2011 - 6:01 AM

Nutrition scores hit the shelves of some Minnesota supermarkets.

In the past, Jodi Rohe says, she wouldn't have hesitated to buy a box of Total cereal when shopping for her family. Now, the number on the grocery shelf gives her pause.

Not the price. The nutrition score.

In the case of Total, only 29 out of a possible 100 points.

Since October, Coborn's supermarkets in the St. Cloud area have been rating the nutritional content of thousands of food items and posting the scores next to the prices. They use a system called NuVal, developed by a Yale doctor and a team of nutrition experts, to grade foods, snacks and drinks on a scale of 1 (least nutritious) to 100 (think spinach and blueberries).

"We're not in the business of telling [consumers] what to buy,'' said Bob Thueringer, the chief operating officer at Coborn's, who noted that the chain has not eliminated any products from its shelves.

But, he said, he realized that the grocery industry can play a role in the nation's health -- especially the fight against obesity -- by sharing more information with consumers. "Here, we have a chance to be a leader," he said.

Already, there's some evidence that NuVal is influencing customers' choices, particularly in types of pastas and yogurts, according to a Coborn's survey. If that continues, and consumers shift to more nutritious items, Thueringer said, "it will cause a ripple effect throughout the whole food chain."

Low-fat may also be low score

Some of the scores can be surprising.

A can of Health Valley fat-free broth, in the organic section, rates only a 5. Reduced-fat Jif peanut butter is a 7 -- while full-strength Jif gets a 23. (That's partly because the system subtracts points for ingredients such as sugar, salt and saturated fat.) Yogurt, meanwhile, can run from 11 to 100.

The goal of the scores is simplicity, said Rohe, who runs a community anti-obesity effort called Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily (BLEND) for the CentraCare Health Foundation in St. Cloud.

Even if you study traditional product labels, she said, it can be difficult to figure out which bread or pasta sauce is the best overall, nutritionally speaking. One might have more sodium, another more sugar -- even if they're sold as health foods. NuVal ratings boil all the ingredients down to a single number, she said, making it "easier for consumers to make healthy choices."

The scores were the brainchild of Dr. David Katz of the Yale Prevention Research Center. It took him and a panel of national experts two years to perfect the formula, crunching numbers for more than 30 nutritional ingredients, according to Robert Keane, a spokesman for NuVal, which is based in Braintree, Mass.

The overall nutrition score, as Rohe puts it, "is kind of the good divided by the bad."

Since its debut two years ago, the NuVal system has appeared in 13 grocery chains with more than 1,000 stores, including Coborn's and Hy-Vee in Minnesota. They pay NuVal a fee to use the system.

Coborn's decided to adopt the ratings last fall at eight St. Cloud-area stores as part of the BLEND community project; and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota kicked in some money to help promote it.

Thueringer says the program has gone so well that the NuVal scores will be in all 28 Coborn's stores by the end of the year.

'It does the math for me'

Kelly Radi, who lives in Sartell, Minn., jokingly calls herself an unpaid "spokesmom" for the program. Her family has struggled with weight issues, she said, and "this is one way to keep it in check."

Radi admits she was stunned when she first saw the scores on some of her favorite foods. "I was always label shopping," she said. If it said "low-fat" or "fat-free," she bought it. She stopped buying reduced-fat peanut butter, though, when she saw the scores were in the single digits.

"This, to me, makes it easy," Radi said. "It does the math for me."

Not everyone, though, is so intrigued. On a recent afternoon, an informal survey of shoppers at Coborn's in Sauk Rapids found only a few who knew about or gave much thought to the NuVal scores.

"I've seen it advertised, but I don't pay attention to it," said one woman in the yogurt section.

Said another: "I've been out of work for a while, so I'm looking for the lowest prices."

But Janice Putnam of Sartell said she does notice the ratings.

"I've been glad to find that I'm already buying most of the stuff that has the highest numbers," she said. "It's just a little backup."

Use with care

Some nutritionists, though, say the ratings should be read cautiously. "The concern is people could say: 'I could eat as much of this as I want because it has a perfect score,'" said Lisa Harnack, a professor and director of the nutrition coordinating center at the University of Minnesota. "You can wind up with a really imbalanced diet."

Plus, she said, the key to obesity is to eat less.

"The score, in and of itself, isn't going to lead to that."

It also has critics in the food industry. General Mills, which makes Total, says the scores can be baffling. "It demonstrates the problem with NuVal," said company spokeswoman Kirstie Foster, when asked about Total's score of 29.

"No one knows why any particular product receives a particular rating -- and NuVal won't say because it is a for-profit rating system." Foster said it's better to read the actual label to get the full story.

But Rohe said the scoring system has credibility in part because it "wasn't pushed by any manufacturer" and is based on science.

She says the goal is not to buy only products with perfect scores but to "trade up" when possible -- for example, from one brand of pasta to another.

Sometimes, however, even fans don't want to know the score. Radi recalled a conversation in the cookie aisle when one of her daughters said: "Just don't tell me the NuVal number on this one, Mom, because I'm having it."

Rohe said she had a similar talk with her own daughter. "Do you remember when we could shop before NuVal, we could buy whatever we want?" the girl asked.

"I do," Rohe replied. "But I don't want to go back."

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384

To read article:

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Poll Says Minnesotans Support Raising Price of Cigarettes to Help Solve State Budget Crisis

Raise it for Health Coalition urges state leaders to protect youth by raising tobacco’s price

ST. PAUL, Minn. (June 29, 2011) – Nearly three out of five Minnesotans support an increase in the price of cigarettes as a way to raise revenue and help solve the State’s current budget problem, according to a new public opinion poll conducted in mid-June on behalf of the Raise it for Health coalition. Majority support spread across most demographic groups, including Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Of those who supported raising the price, 70 percent said they would be in favor of increasing the price by at least $1.50 per pack of cigarettes.

After the poll was fielded, the Minnesota Department of Revenue issued its revenue projection for raising the price of tobacco, concluding that a $1.50 increase per pack would yield nearly $400 million per biennium.

Dr. Bill Morris, president of Decision Resources Ltd., the firm that administered the poll, noted that “while Minnesotans are understandably cautious about new taxes, they continue to believe increasing the tobacco tax – even by as much as $1.50 – is one of the choices that should be part of the budget solution.”

Minnesota, with the support of many of the health organizations in the coalition, has made great strides in protecting people’s health through a decade of successful tobacco policies. Smoke-free workplace laws, support services to help people who are addicted to tobacco and laws that protect youth from tobacco have resulted in a significant decline in Minnesota’s smoking rate from 22 percent in 1999 to 16 percent in 2010. But the human and economic costs of tobacco in Minnesota continue to be staggering:

  • 625,000 Minnesota adults and 56,000 Minnesota high school students still smoke

  • Each year smoking costs Minnesota 5,135 lives and nearly $3 billion in excess medical costs to treat diseases caused by smoking – which equates to $554 for every man, woman and child in the state.

  • The tobacco industry continues to spend millions each year marketing its products to youth, women and populations that experience health disparities, and

  • Smokeless tobacco use has increased across all Minnesota demographics.

“Cheap tobacco products aren’t good for anyone, and higher tobacco prices are a proven and effective way to keep youth from ever starting to smoke and to make it easier for more people to quit,” said Matt Schafer, Minnesota State Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society. “In fact, when the 2005 Health Impact Fee raised the price of cigarettes, calls to the various stop smoking support lines increased significantly.”

The Raise it for Health coalition is encouraging Minnesotans to contact their state representatives and tell them that raising the price of tobacco is a win-win solution that should be seriously considered during the budget negotiations. For more information about the Raise it for Health coalition visit


Raise it for Health is a coalition of Minnesota’s leading health and nonprofit organizations that share a common goal of reducing tobacco use. More than 5,100 Minnesotans still die from tobacco-related disease each year and tobacco continues to be a major driver of the state’s escalating health care costs. Raise it for Health supports significantly raising the price of tobacco products in Minnesota because it is a proven way to prevent children from starting to use tobacco and helping existing tobacco users quit.

Raise it for Health partners include: AARP Minnesota, Allina Hospitals & Clinics, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Catalyst, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, ClearWay MinnesotaSM, Courage Center, HealthPartners, LAAMPP, LifeScience Alley, Local Public Health Association, MAATEN, Mayo Clinic, Medica, Metro-MN Oncology Nursing Society, Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, Minnesota Cancer Alliance, Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Minnesota Hospital Association, Minnesota Council of Health Plans, Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Public Health Association, Park Nicollet, School Nurse Organization of Minnesota, Twin Cities Medical Society and University of Minnesota Physicians Heart at Fairview.

Six hundred and twenty-five randomly selected Minnesotans completed a telephone survey administered by Decision Resources, Ltd., of Minneapolis from June 9 - 17, 2011. The results of this study are projectable to the universe of adult Minnesota residents within 4 percent in 95 out of 100 cases.