WASHINGTON, D.C., Mar. 12, 2018 — American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following statement today on “Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health,” a new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) which lays out strategies for improving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):
“While SNAP has played a vital and positive role in addressing hunger for low-income, vulnerable Americans for half a century, there’s always room for improvement. As this new report underscores, research indicates that there are “untapped opportunities” to tackle the poor diet quality of SNAP recipients and improve their health.
We could not agree more. The report’s recommendations on making nutrition a priority, bolstering SNAP’s education efforts, and ensuring better alignment and coordination between SNAP, Medicaid and states are strategies that should be on the table when taking on the complex challenges of health, education, and poverty.
Keeping SNAP strong while dealing with diet quality is critical. Right now, monthly SNAP benefits are inadequate, and any cut to access would be unacceptable. In addition, SNAP is the only federal food assistance program without nutrition standards – potentially a recipe for disaster when it comes to health. Americans on SNAP consume 39 percent fewer whole grains, 46 percent more red meat, and, among women, 61 percent more sugary beverages. Sugary beverages are the single largest source of added sugars in our diets and have been linked to heart disease risk factors, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Providing incentives for SNAP beneficiaries to leave sugary drinks on the shelf wherever they purchase groceries could reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
To accomplish this goal, the association is advocating for a voluntary SNAP pilot program to be included in the farm bill reauthorization where fruits and vegetables would be incentivized in return for excluding sugary beverage purchases with SNAP benefits. Robust evaluation would show the impact on consumer purchasing, health outcomes, feasibility of retailer implementation, stigma, and other data points.
States, which have a key role in administering SNAP, could also run pilots – with a little help from the federal government. As this report points out, the USDA can grant states waivers to conduct pilots on improving diet quality that use incentives and disincentives and then thoroughly evaluate the outcomes. Other waivers could be applied to allow states to combine SNAP and Medicaid data and funds to improve nutrition and health outcomes in both populations.
Combining pilots like ours and others with the BPC’s recommendation to allow the USDA to collect and share store-level data on every product purchased with SNAP funds would be a turning point for assessing healthy food access and diet quality. What SNAP beneficiaries buy in which regions would increase states’ abilities to focus SNAP education and other initiatives to improve diet and to evaluate their effectiveness, according to the BPC task force.
Moving forward, we believe this comprehensive report provides lawmakers with a good starting point for discussions on how SNAP can be improved and successfully deliver the maximum public health benefits to the Americans it supports.”
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
About the American Stroke Association
The American Stroke Association is devoted to saving people from stroke — the No. 2 cause of death in the world and a leading cause of serious disability. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat stroke. The Dallas-based association officially launched in 1998 as a division of the American Heart Association. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-888-4STROKE or visit StrokeAssociation.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association receives funding mostly from individuals. Foundations and corporations donate as well, and fund specific programs and events. Strict policies are enforced to prevent these relationships from influencing the Association's science content. Financial information for the American Heart Association, including a list of contributions from pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers, is available at http://www.heart.org/corporatefunding.