Improving Health in Communities

volunteers working at food drive

The AHA is putting its money where its mission is and investing more than $230 million to deconstruct barriers to equitable health in communities around the country. Investments are being made over the next four years as we approach our centennial anniversary in 2024. In short, we are providing funding to drive change.

Our Social Impact Fund and our Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund are making a difference, thanks to life-changing investments. Voices for Healthy Kids, whose grants power positive changes in communities alongside our advocacy work, makes a difference every day. Plus, our efforts to improve blood pressure, nutrition security and tobacco control and our work to make workplaces healthier continue in earnest.

Here’s a snapshot of some of our work as we improve health in communities:

  • Longtime donor Gary Ellis and his wife, Sue, donated $1.2 million to bring the AHA Social Impact Fund to Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota. The investment will support local social entrepreneurs striving to shatter barriers to health.
  • The Bay Area received $1.5 million from for Social Impact Fund expansion, supporting local efforts to address social determinants of health, which are the economic and social conditions into which people are born and live. That funding inspired $15.9 million more from other investors.
  • New York Life Investment Management announced a contribution to the Social Impact Fund during February, which is American Heart Month.
  • The organization’s Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund announced its first investments. The fund was established in memory of Tyson, an AHA National Board and CEO Roundtable member who served as CEO of Kaiser Permanente. The fund announced more than $1.1 million in first-time investments, including 10 organizations in the San Francisco Bay area and New York City.
  • The AHA announced that 12 businesses and nonprofits in Chicago and Atlanta will receive $2.1 million in funding from the Tyson fund. Funding was made possible by a $5 million grant from the Walmart Foundation, as part of the Center for Racial Equity.
  • Six entrepreneurs vying for grants to address health disparities in Puerto Rico squared off in June in the island’s first EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator. It was the AHA’s first bilingual Business Accelerator, where candidates presented their business ideas to judges for a chance to receive up to $15,000 in funding.
  • Voices for Healthy Kids, which works around the country to pass and defend equitable policies that expand opportunities for kids to learn and play, announced $2.5 million in grants to address structural barriers to healthy food access, early care and education. Grants ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 were awarded to 16 organizations in 14 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., to advance policies addressing health inequities based on race. Voices for Healthy Kids receives generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
  • With the COVID pandemic highlighting social inequities in health, we launched the National Hypertension Control Initiative, an evidenced-based, community-driven effort(link opens in new window) to reduce high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. This initiative built on our existing work with community health centers and community-based organizations to help drive equitable blood pressure control in communities across the nation. With an investment of $20 million and a focus on Black, Hispanic and Indigenous people, the initiative is part of a multipronged pledge to address health disparities.

In addition, we are supporting healthier communities through our advocacy work at the local, state and federal levels.

Our advocacy efforts support healthier communities in numerous ways. We celebrated 40 years of advocacy at the American Heart Association — efforts that began with a focus on enacting tobacco-control policies and increasing federal research funding at the National Institutes of Health. Over time, our public policy priorities have expanded to include improving access to affordable health care, promoting nutrition security and active living, and strengthening public health infrastructure and acute cardiovascular systems of care.

  • A focus on public policy at the state and community levels led to significant, meaningful change last year, including policies and appropriations that:
    • secured state and local funding for health equity initiatives in 10 communities and 13 states
    • secured funding for healthy food purchasing for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients in four states and Washington, D.C.
    • defended statewide smoke-free air laws in Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia
    • prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco products in California and six communities in California and Minnesota
    • significantly increased tobacco taxes in Maryland, Oregon and Colorado and committed a portion of that funding for tobacco control and cessation programs
  • The AHA, the American College of Cardiology, the European Society of Cardiology and the World Heart Federation released a joint opinion(link opens in new window) calling for greater global action to end tobacco use, which causes an estimated 12% of deaths worldwide among people 30 and older.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration took action to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, announcing it will begin the regulatory process to remove menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the market. This historic development follows decades of AHA advocacy.
  • Patients in communities across the country scored a win against surprise medical billing. Nearly half of U.S. adults surveyed(link opens in new window) in a Harris Poll last fall said they didn’t seek medical care for fear of receiving an unexpected medical bill. In December, major protections against surprise bills were passed into law.
  • Legislation to improve access to cardiac rehab was introduced in Congress with bipartisan support. This is vital because following a heart event, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation lowers the risk of death by 26% and hospital readmission by 18%. Yet women are 12% less likely than men to be referred to rehab. Black, Hispanic and Asian people are — respectively — 20%, 36% and 50% less likely than white people to be referred.

Finally, we are driving health equity in the workplace. Diversity, equity and inclusion topped the AHA CEO Roundtable’s annual agenda. Members convened to discuss the issues employers face as businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and strategies for equitable workplace health.