PITTSBURGH, April 9, 2024 – The American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health, has teamed up with First Steps & Beyond (FSB), an organization established by Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network (AHN) to reduce Black infant mortality, improve maternal health outcomes and lower preterm birth rates, to launch a “Food as Medicine” pilot program for birthing people in the Pittsburgh region.

The pilot program brings together doulas from AHN and UPMC, as well as caregivers from Kangaroo Birthing & Maternity Concierge and the MAYA organization, to provide more than 50 high-risk or food-insecure obstetric patients with tailored nutritional plans as well as vouchers for free fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores. The pilot program is being funded by a grant from the Highmark Foundation and the American Heart Association.

Following the patient’s enrollment, “Food Bucks Rx” debit cards will be loaded with $50 every month for one year, a period that includes the patient’s pregnancy and part of their postpartum period. The program will also offer patients free cooking demonstrations, as well as helpful recipes that utilize fresh produce.

The debit card program will be administered by The Food Trust, a national nonprofit that works with retailers and community organizations to improve food access and affordability.

A major component of FSB’s strategy is to unify with local doula organizations who maintain strong connections within their communities. Doulas deeply understand their birthing patients, some of whom may reside in underserved areas, and provide an excellent opportunity to those who would benefit from a Food as Medicine program.

“It’s an honor to collaborate with the American Heart Association on such an important initiative, which we expect will create lasting benefits for at-risk mothers, birthing people and their babies,” said Takiyah Durham, CCHW, MBA, Director of First Steps and Beyond. “When patients screen positive for food insecurity or are at risk for specific heart-related conditions, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, providers will enroll them into the program, and they will receive their debit card within two weeks.”

Food Bucks Rx debit cards may be redeemed exclusively for fresh fruits and vegetables at participating grocers which currently include Pittsburgh’s East End Food Co-op, farmers markets, Giant Eagle and Wal-Mart stores, as well as via Instacart.

“To improve the heart health and well-being of our communities, it’s essential that we start with the health of our mothers and birthing people. This is why we made the collective decision to launch the program in close relationship with First Steps and Beyond,” said Matthew Sousa, executive director of the American Heart Association, Greater Pittsburgh division. “We look forward to working with families across Pittsburgh to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables as well as resources on how to consistently incorporate them into their daily routines in pregnancy and beyond.”

FSB was originally established in 2021 mobilizing the community to address Black infant and maternal mortality in Allegheny County. A cornerstone of these efforts is to reduce the number of preterm births by improving the health and well-being of pregnant patients.

According to recent reports by the Allegheny County Department of Health, Pittsburgh's Black maternal mortality rate is higher than Black mortality rates in 97% of similar cities, and fetal deaths are two times more likely among Pittsburgh's Black women compared to white women. In addition, the number of obstetric patients diagnosed with new-onset hypertensive disorders during pregnancy has more than doubled in the last two decades.


About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for a century. During 2024 - our Centennial year - we celebrate our rich 100-year history and accomplishments. As we forge ahead into our second century of bold discovery and impact our vision is to advance health and hope for everyone, everywhere. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, X or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.

For Media Inquiries:

Karen Colbert: karen.colbert@heart.org