Improving Access to Healthy Foods in the Puget Sound

Watch the video for examples on how we have taken action

Too many households in the Puget Sound struggle to put food on the table, relying on food banks and meal programs. By addressing food insecurity, we can help improve wellness and cardiovascular health in our community. An overall healthy dietary pattern is one of the keys to ideal cardiovascular health, and eating healthy meals is easier when families can afford nutritious foods such as fresh produce.

Did You Know?

  • 27% of WA households experience food insecurity. (WAFOOD Survey, July 2021)

  • Close to one million people in Washington receive SNAP (food assistance). Nearly 2/3 of all them are children, elderly and people with disabilities.

  • 249,356 kids in the Puget Sound are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Making An Impact

Our work to improve food security and access to healthy foods include:

Stocking Healthy Pantries: Heart Healthy Food Drive Toolkit

cover of Stocking Healthy Pantries toolkit. Shows American Heart Association logo and a paper bag filled with groceries, including fresh produce, bread, milk and pasta in front of someone's door. Eating healthy meals is easier when families have nutritious foods to prepare. We are encouraging companies to host heart-healthy food drives. Food access organizations want more healthy options, but donations are often low in nutritional value. Limited availability to nutritious foods makes it difficult for organizations to support a shopper's health needs and may perpetuate inequities that contribute to negative health outcomes. Our comprehensive toolkit supports companies in building community partnerships with food access organizations, focusing on the health impacts of poor nutrition and the disparities in food insecurity in WA. The toolkit includes guidance for providing culturally relevant foods, a map of local food access organizations, talking points, materials to promote your food drive and more.

Increasing Access to Culturally Relevant Foods 

Having access to culturally inclusive and nutrient dense food helps all community members reach their health potential, despite income gaps. We worked with food access organizations Community Lunch on Capitol Hill(link opens in new window) and Family Works Seattle(link opens in new window) to develop nutrition policies that prioritize the organizations’ commitment to providing nutritious foods reflective of the community’s cultural diversity. These policies provide a framework for health equity in their food access programs by focusing on fresh vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. These projects complement our history of legislative advocacy for nutrition security, such as the Fruit and Vegetable Incentive Program and SNAP Market Match. We also successfully advocated for a $5 million health equity appropriation from the King County Council to increase the distribution of culturally relevant foods

Three Meals A Day for Kids

Having a longer, healthier life is greatly impacted by health during the early years. As such, a key focus of the AHA is increasing youth access to three nutritious meals a day by providing capacity building opportunities for schools and other youth serving organizations. Our Three Meals a Day project is helping to bridge the hunger gap by working collaboratively with schools and community partners to expand food access by increasing adoption and effective implementation of the At-Risk After School Meals program.

Some ways we are overcoming barriers to meals include:

  • Diving deeper with a subset of sites to provide technical assistance, catalyst funds, and community resources to overcome barriers to serving meals to kids. For example, one school district partner will retrofit a vehicle to deliver school meals, including dinner, complete with nutrition education information on board.
  • Developing and sharing health curriculum to mitigate the lack of programming barrier for dinner programs.
  • Hosting family meal events that provide immediate food resources and education tools to high-need families.
family meal kit boxes
Nutrition Insecurity Screening

Our collaboration with Puget Sound organizations is working to identify those who need food and nutrition resources and provide referrals to food sources. Learn more

Food Referral Sources: download or print in English, Korean, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese.

Food to Those Who Need It

We’re working with clinics to support fruit and vegetable prescription programs and replicating the model in community settings. Through strong coalition partnerships, we mobilize to meet the needs of those that are most vulnerable. For example, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic we worked with Food Innovation Network (link opens in new window)(link opens in new window)to provide hot meals to refugees and immigrants in South King County coupled with relevant health education.

Healthy Food Guidelines in Childcare

Childcare settings are an important environment for forming good health behaviors, attitudes and habits around children's dietary intake, physical activity, and energy balance. Together with our partners, the American Heart Association advocated for healthier nutrition guidelines for family home and center-based childcare providers, including the promotion of water and unflavored milk, increased fruits and vegetables in snacks, and support for breastfeeding mothers.

WA Fruit & Vegetable Incentive Program

Thanks in part to support from organizations like the American Heart Association, the State Legislature in 2018 made an important first-ever investment in the Fruit and Vegetable Incentive Program (link opens in new window)(link opens in new window). This program provides greater access to healthy fruits and vegetables for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants. When shopping at farmers’ markets and select retailers, SNAP participants can double their purchasing power for fruits and vegetables.

Seattle Sugary Beverage Tax

Sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet. People who consumer a greater percentage of their calories from added sugars are at a significantly higher risk of dying from heart disease. Sugary drinks taxes are proven to help reduce the consumption of sugary drinks, such as soda and sweetened iced teas.  Now that the tax is in place, we’re one of the community organizations making sure that revenue from the tax is funding food access programs in the city. In 2018, these programs served 45,000 children and adults. Here’s how some of the tax revenue is being used:

Get Involved

We need advocates (link opens in new window)(link opens in new window) for this work as well as individuals and organizations that we can work alongside for a healthier food environment. If you’d like to join with us to ensure three healthy meals a day for kids or to bring more fruits and vegetables to the tables of those who need it, contact us to discuss how we can collaborate.