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!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Upcoming Event: 12 Lunch Hours to Master the Affordable Care Act

Do you find the Affordable Care Act a little daunting? Are you wondering what it will mean for your organization and the people you serve? Over the course of 12 lunch hours, you can get the information you need to make sure that Minnesota makes health care reform decisions that are in the best interest of your community. Starting September 27, the 12 Lunch Hours to Master the Affordable Care Act series will give you the opportunity to hear from experts and ask your burning questions.

All lunch hour discussions will be held from noon to 1 p.m. at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits conference room, located at 2314 University Avenue West Suite 20, in Saint Paul. Lunch hours are free and participants are encouraged to bring a lunch. This series is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Budget Project, Legal Services Advocacy Project, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and TakeAction Minnesota. For more information or to RSVP, please contact Christina Wessel at

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Minnesota obesity rate expected to climb

Kare 11 News

Minnesota's obesity rate is expected to climb significantly over the next 20 years, but to be fair, so is every other state in our nation.   Select to watch video.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tax hike cuts tobacco consumption

By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY

A giant federal tobacco tax hike has spurred a historic drop in smoking, especially among teens, poor people and those dependent on government health insurance, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

President Obama signed the tax hike — the biggest to take effect in his first term — on his 16th day in office, reversing two vetoes by President Bush. The federal cigarette tax jumped from 39 cents to $1.01 per pack on April 1, 2009, to finance expanded health care for children. Since then, the change has brought in more than $30 billion in new revenue, tax records show.

Yet the tax hike and its repercussions remain mostly unknown to the non-smoking public. The tax increase's size and national reach lifted prices 22% overnight, more than all state and local tax hikes combined over the past decade when adjusted for inflation.

Result: The tax hike has helped restart a long-term decline in smoking that had stalled in recent years. About 3 million fewer people smoked last year than in 2009, despite a larger population, according to surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The tax hits hardest on families who make less than $50,000 a year and account for two-thirds of smokers.

"The federal tax increase was the win-win that we thought it would be and the evidence shows that," says Danny McGoldrick, research vice president at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Teen smoking immediately fell 10% to 13% when the tax hike took effect, says researcher Jidong Huang of the University of Chicago at Illinois. "High prices deter kids from picking up cigarettes," he says.

Higher taxes aren't the only reason smoking has fallen dramatically among adults since the early 1980s and among teens since the mid-1990s.

Health concerns, smoke-free buildings and marketing restrictions have played a role. Tobacco companies have raised their prices, too, making money off fewer customers.

It's difficult to be specific about what influences individual adult consumer behavior, but taxes are one thing in the mix," says David Sutton, spokesman for Altria Group, maker of Marlboro cigarettes. He says taxes and fees are so high — 55% of Marlboro's retail price — that they unfairly burden adults who choose to smoke.

Taxes are the sledge hammer of anti-smoking efforts. The federal tax hike helped push tobacco use down to 18.9% in 2011, the lowest level on record, according to the CDC surveys. Even smokers who don't quit light up less. In the 1990s, one of every 20 high school students smoked 10 or more cigarettes a day. Today, one out of 71 students smoke that much.

Other findings:

•Who quit. The elderly and Hispanics slashed smoking most dramatically, each down more than 15% from 2008 to 2011, according to the CDC's National Health Interview Survey. Women quit more than men. Least moved: middle-age men, down just 1.2%.

•Health care for poor. About 1 million adults on Medicaid quit smoking, which could reduce future health costs.

•Tobacco industry. Consumer spending on tobacco rose from $80 billion in 2008 to $98 billion in 2011 in inflation-adjusted dollars — even though the amount of tobacco purchased fell 11% , Bureau of Economic Analysis data show. Higher taxes accounted for about half that spending increase. The rest went to tobacco companies and retailers

Friday, September 7, 2012

High blood pressure is out of control for too many Americans and Minnesotans

About one-quarter of Minnesotans have high blood pressure

High blood pressure is a nationwide concern and a costly health problem. Almost 67 million American adults have high blood pressure, and half of them do not have it under control. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. and Minnesota.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday released a report finding that nearly one in three adults (67 million) has high blood pressure and of those about half (36 million) have uncontrolled blood pressure. High blood pressure is defined as having systolic blood pressure (top number) greater than or equal to 140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) greater than or equal to 90 mmHg.

The latest CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (pdf) did not include Minnesota specific numbers. However, data from a separate national survey released in August found that 26 percent of adult Minnesotans report being told that they had high blood pressure, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey Data, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011.

As for treatment of the disease, in 2010 about 75 percent of Minnesotans aged 18-85 who received a diagnosis of hypertension and received treatment in a clinic had their blood pressure adequately controlled after diagnosis, according to Minnesota Community Measurement. This is an improvement upon Minnesota's 2008 rate of 69 percent.

"Though we're doing better than national averages in terms of preventing high blood pressure and treating it, we are really encouraging people to “know their numbers" and seek treatment in order to avoid a disabling stroke, heart attack, or even death," said Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health.

The Department of Health is combating high blood pressure by improving the quality of care in clinics and by encouraging healthy communities and healthy living. Minnesota has embraced team-based care in its clinics, which according to the CDC report, is one successful approach to controlling high blood pressure. In 2008, Minnesota passed legislation allowing primary care clinics to voluntarily be certified as health care homes, which is a team-based clinical model that is particularly effective for caring for patients with diseases such as high blood pressure. With this approach, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, dieticians, and community health workers can work together to identify and treat high blood pressure. About 2 million Minnesotans now receive care at certified health care homes.

In addition, the Minnesota Department of Health is combating high blood pressure by promoting changes in communities that promote healthy living, such as adding walking and biking paths, opening farmers markets, and adding smoking restrictions. The department also addresses high blood pressure with worksite initiatives that focus on helping employees “know their numbers." The goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice, so Minnesotans can lower their risk of developing high blood pressure by eating fruits and vegetables, consuming less salt, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.

To learn more about high blood pressure in Minnesota visit, the MDH blood pressure page or Minnesota's state plan to combat heart disease and stroke. To learn more about national efforts, visit Controlling high blood pressure is also a key component of Million Hearts ™, a national initiative to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes by 2017


For more information, contact:
Scott Smith
MDH Communications

James Peacock
Disease & Stroke Prevention Unit
651 201-5405

Thursday, September 6, 2012

In Minn., new effort to get the farm to the food shelf

by Julie Siple, Minnesota Public Radio
September 4, 2012

Hunger relief organizations are stepping up their efforts to capture the millions of pounds of produce from Minnesota fields that go to waste each year, and put it on the plates of those who need it.

With that in mind, volunteers for the Neighborhood House food shelf visit the St. Paul Farmers Market on Sunday afternoons. After customers have left, the volunteers haul carts around the market.

Vendors gladly hand over what they didn't sell -- piles of beans, tomatoes, and beets.

"A lot of it would go to waste, because after today, we pick everything all over again," said Julie Yang, a farmer whose family donates leftovers every week.

The food shelf collects about 1,500 pounds each Sunday from the downtown St. Paul farmers market, mostly produce that would otherwise be composted or tossed.

Increasingly, hunger relief groups are trying to bring in what's called "agricultural surplus." They're also looking beyond farmers markets to potential sources for larger amounts of food.

They have their eyes on some of Minnesota's biggest consumable crops: potatoes, sweet corn and peas.

An estimated 210 million pounds of those three crops go unharvested in Minnesota each year, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group that was based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Millions more are picked but never sold to retailers or consumers.

"The potential is substantial," said Tony Mans, director of food sourcing for Second Harvest Heartland food bank. "We're looking for a new stream, and this is the next big thing."

Mans said hunger relief groups need a new stream of food, because traditional sources of donations are declining. For example, they're getting fewer nonperishable donations from big food manufacturers.

"You know, manufacturers are really tightening up their inventories and doing a better job of controlling waste, as they should," he said. "As the economy has tightened, they've really changed their systems and become much more efficient. That's made it harder for us and our food shelves to help serve our clients."

Mans hopes agricultural surplus will help fill the gap. One of the biggest challenges is logistics: figuring out how to get perishable donations quickly.

To do that, Second Harvest has refrigerated trucks that crisscross much of southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. The trucks pick up produce as soon as a farmer calls.

When Second Harvest receives more produce than it needs, it sends the extra to food banks outside Minnesota. In return, it receives other produce, perhaps tomatoes in January.

The biggest volume of unused produce could come from large-scale food processors -- the companies that can and freeze vegetables. Hunger relief groups are talking with some of those companies and hope to bring in high-volume donations, Mans said.

Second Harvest is also reaching out to vegetable farmers like Gary Pahl in Apple Valley. As Pahl recently walked through fields of sweet corn and cucumbers, he stopped to check the crops, then conferred with his brother to make a game plan for the day's harvest.

"We'll just pick whatever cukes we get, cut our cabbage so we don't have to mess around with that tomorrow," Pahl said.

It's an art to get the vegetables ready just in time to sell. Pahl plants sweet corn in batches, so it will ripen bit by bit through the summer. But sometimes, the weather doesn't cooperate -- then there's too much corn at once, and he can't get a good price for it. That leads to something he hates to do.

"Put a disc to it, till it back into the ground," Pahl said. "That's the only thing you can do. If nobody wants it, you know, what else are you going to do with it?"

That changed last year, when he had truckloads of corn still in the fields and called Second Harvest. The food bank paid him a small fee to help cover the cost of harvest. He said he still lost money, but it was nice to see the corn go to someone in need.

"You have a lot of input costs in there; you got a lot of sweat equity," he said. "To see it go to waste, it's disheartening."

In the end, the produce winds up at a food shelf.

At Neighborhood House in St. Paul, Sarah Yang, basic needs manager for Neighborhood House, is thrilled to be able to offer food shelf users a healthy option. It can be hard for low-income families to afford healthy food, she said.

"We're trying really hard not to have Ramen noodles," she said. "We're trying to get more nutritious food in here."

The food shelf offers vegetables from the farmers market, potatoes and sweet corn from farmers' fields. But Yang has a problem: not enough refrigerator space.

The food shelf is trying to expand. Yang wants a walk-in cooler that would allow the food shelf to store more vegetables and keep them fresh longer.

"It's hugely important," she said. "Produce is huge." 

Lunchroom menus push healthy foods

Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune * Updated: September 3, 2012 - 11:39 PM

As Minnesota students return to school, healthy living is on the menu and the syllabus.

For the first time in more than 15 years, federal school nutrition standards are changing. Cafeterias must offer more fruits and vegetables and cut carbohydrates, meat and calories overall.

Minnesota is going a step further, requiring all districts to adopt minimum physical education standards and issuing optional guidelines for "active recess."

Across the state and the nation, school cafeterias are adding new equipment, retraining staff and overhauling menus to reflect a sea change in school nutrition, just one part of broader recognition of the dual problems of malnutrition and obesity among children. Today, 17 percent of American schoolchildren are obese, and as many as 1 in 5 are at risk for going hungry.

Some parents and educators wonder how well the changes will go over at schools. But supporters say the healthy overhaul is overdue.

"It's just common sense," said Deb Loy, director of Coordinated School Health, a division of the Minnesota Department of Education. "There's a recognition that the quality of the nutrition is important, for kids to get the essential nutrients that their bodies need for brain development, physical development, attention, moods, energy levels, those kinds of things."

Fix it and they will eat

Despite concerns that students won't swap chips for chard, school nutrition experts say they've found the opposite to be true, if kids can choose among several healthier options, help create menus and see foods that are prepared and displayed to look delicious.

The changes in school lunch were approved by Congress in 2010 and reflect current thinking about the optimal proportions of different food groups. They adjust portion sizes for students of different ages. They also dial up daily fruit and vegetable servings and set a limit on protein, breads and grains.

Right now, the federal government pays a percentage for each meal certified to meet USDA nutritional requirements, from a minimum of 27 cents for paid meals to a maximum of $3.04 for meals served free to the poorest kids in the country, and in Minnesota, the state adds 12 cents per qualified meal.

The new federal rules include an additional 6 cents for each qualified meal. Food service directors said they expect the decrease in meat and grains to offset much of the expense of produce, but food costs depend on many factors. They said they won't know for a few months how the changes will affect their budgets.

The standards were written for the average U.S. student, raising some questions about whether the calories will be enough to fuel high school athletes.

Dr. Bill Roberts, chairman of the sports medicine advisory committee of the Minnesota State High School League, said it's more relevant to ask where students get their calories.

"You can get quite a lot of calories by plopping 2 or 3 pats of butter on a piece of bread," he said. "Or you can aim toward fruits and vegetables and healthy fats ... and some milk. It sounds like they're barking up the same tree I am with my patients."

Schools roll out their menus

Last Monday, aromas of fresh basil, basmati rice and baked mushrooms filled the Hopkins High School kitchen, as workers made lunch for 1,000 teachers and administrators. Cook Paul Kapala topped trays of grilled chicken with brilliantly red roasted peppers, feta and basil, and extended services manager Anne Ferreira consulted a well-thumbed cookbook, "Mediterranean Food of the Sun," which inspired several dishes on the menu.

Students in the district of 7,200 won't see much change in their lunchrooms on Tuesday, said Barb Mechura, the district's director of Student Nutrition Services. For the past several years, Hopkins has been committed to "scratch cooking." Nutrition directors find great dishes and hand them to professional chefs like Kapala, who adapt the recipes to feed thousands of students. The chopping, mixing and cooking are done daily in nine school kitchens, often with local ingredients.

Hopkins' experience shows that students are more likely to buy in if they are involved in the process, Mechura said. She recalled the day she introduced chili, which can be loaded up with veggies.

"We had to beg kids to take a bite of it, and there were lots of inappropriate comments," she said. "But just last winter, I was in the same serving line area and there were kids coming in, and they were jumping up and down and saying, 'Oh, yay! It's chili today!'"

Changes will be more noticeable elsewhere.

For decades, all of the Minneapolis school District's cooking has taken place at the Nutrition Center in north Minneapolis. Hot and cold items are precooked and prepackaged.

"The biggest issue is that when you package everything in a TV dinner, that's what you get," said Bertrand Weber, who took over as Minneapolis' director of culinary and nutrition servicesin January.

Starting this year, Weber's staff is installing fresh fruit and vegetable bars in every cafeteria. Two elementary schools that still have their own kitchens now will reheat bulk foods separately and serve portions on trays. Cooks are preparing meals from scratch in all the high schools. The changes have resulted in 31 new positions; some are new hires, and others have shifted from packaging jobs to cooking.

Weber says the changes are long overdue. "The biggest resistance I've always had were adults saying, 'Kids won't eat that,'" he said. "Kids will eat the food if it's presented well, if it tastes good and if we keep reinforcing and keep doing it over and over again."

But will it work?

Families visiting the Minnesota State Fair last week were largely supportive of the changes.

"Schools never should have been in the business of teaching unhealthy habits," said Tim Rust of Glenwood, father of a high school senior. "It's just a lack of common sense, and I'm glad to see it going in a different direction."

Charlie Marble, a fifth-grader at Lake Marion Elementary School in Lakeville, noted that kids at his school like to eat fruit, though some try to take seconds of dessert.

James Shelton III, a St. Paul third-grader, wasn't sure.

"I think there's enough fruits and vegetables," he said. With some prompting from his dad, James Shelton Jr., he admitted that he'd like to see more strawberries and pineapple.

The elder Shelton was among a few adults who worried that the produce will end up in the garbage. "When you waste food, it's like wasting money," he said. "But they've got to try it."

The program has other skeptics. Work by Food and Nutrition Services in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools has been recognized for excellence. Coordinator Wendy Knight understands about giving students options and has seen attractive displays entice kids to try new foods. But she worries that portions are too small for active teens.

"I support the program; I just feel that kids need more calories than I think what this is allowing them," she said. "Right now I've got some of them scavenging the lunchrooms after lunch because they're hungry. ... Kids need calories, and kids need good protein sources, and they're going to be looking at their burger and thinking, 'Where's the beef?'"

From food to phys ed

Beyond the lunchroom, students will need to meet the very general goals for physical competence and active lifestyle, as set out by the National Association of Sport and Physical Education and outlined by the state Department of Education. Students must take physical education yearly through eighth grade; school districts will continue to set their own high school requirements.

This fall, the department will release "Quality Recess Guidelines" to help students make the best use of active time. The optional guidelines will include suggestions that students take a 20-minute activity break, daily, before lunch if possible. It also suggests the use of group games.

In Loy's mind, the nutrition and activity are linked.

"If you attend to making sure that kids have good, nutritious food, or that they have breaks throughout the school day to get physically active, then you're not spending so much time dealing with disciplinary issues," she said. "The kids are more focused and their brains are more primed to learn."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409