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Food For the Heart

American Heart Association Tackles Food Insecurity, Healthy Eating in South Carolina

February is American Heart Month, and The American Heart Association celebrates this month with events like The Heart Ball and Go Red for Women, the American Heart Association's global initiative to end heart disease and stroke in women. 

The American Heart Association's Central Savannah River Area and Midlands Area are going even further to spread the word on heart health by focusing on food.

From Columbia to North Augusta, the American Heart Association has committed to reducing the prevalence of obesity by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, decreasing food deserts and increasing access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Over 50% of Midlands teens and adults are either overweight or obese.

"The Heart Association is known for its commitment to research and furthering science and innovation in the areas of heart disease and stroke," said Brennan Meagher, director of communications and community impact for The American Heart Association Central Savannah River Area.

"Clinical care makes up about 20% of a patient's health outcomes. The other 80% has to do with what we refer to as the social determinants of health - what you eat, where you live, your access to transportation, etc."

With that in mind, the AHA is pivoting to focus on a person's full range of health.

"In the CSRA, we are focusing on access to food, especially in response to COVID. We have worked really hard in Barnwell County with the Eat Smart Move More Coalition on providing residents with fresh produce," said Meagher. "We also had a grant with Blue Cross Blue Shield in partnership with the Midlands, and we were able to use a portion of that grant money to fund mobile food distributions in Aiken County."

In the Midlands, the AHA is working with Harvest Hope Food Bank to help people make the healthy choice the easy choice.

"We are pushing people to choose fresh fruits and vegetables and not foods with added sugar, salt and preservatives. We're really trying to help people understand what the healthy choice is," said Catherine Coffer, director of marking and communications for the Midlands chapter.

As part of that mission, AHA is working with Harvest Hope to change their nutritional standards to follow the AHA guidelines. They are also working with healthcare providers to provide food insecurity screenings and connecting patients who are identified as food insecure with the community resources.

In the future, the AHA Midlands chapter also hopes to have a program with farmers' markets, allowing for the use of SNAP benefits at the farmers' markets and possible double benefits when SNAP is used at farmers' markets. Pre-COVID, the AHA also hosted cooking demonstrations at farmers' markets and other food distribution sites.

"One in four people in the Midlands don't know where their next meal is coming from. It's not just about getting food to people who are hungry, but it's also getting them healthy and good food," said Coffer.

Eighty percent of heart disease is preventable, said Meagher, and eating healthy, getting enough exercise and keeping your blood pressure and your cholesterol under control are ways to do just that.

"We are focusing on food. It's about getting to the root of the problem and preventing people from even ever having problems with heart disease," she said. 

The Midlands' annual Heart Ball will be held on Feb. 26 this year, followed by the Midlands Heart Walk on March 27 and the Midlands Go Red for Women Luncheon on April 22. The CSRA Heart Ball is on February 5 and the Heart Walk will be held March 13. All events will be held virtually.

For more information, Reach out to Whitney Jeffcoat at 803.457.6926 or visit heart.org/midlands or heart.org/CSRA.

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