SNAP: An Underused Lever to Address the Obesity Epidemic

One of the bigger policy levers to improve the nutrition decisions that people make lies with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. By making some policy changes within the program, we could hard-wire better nutrition decisions among program participants.

The thing is that the federal government (congress and USDA) would need to take the lead to implement evidence-based policy decisions – policy changes that would have a profound impact on nutrition and obesity in the US.

To help make the case, the ADHS contracted with the ASU School of Nutrition & Health Promotion back in 2012 to write a White Paper that outlined evidence-based strategies to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of SNAP including: 1) improving access to healthy foods to provide better choices; 2) incentivizing the purchase of healthy foods; 3) restricting access to unhealthy foods; and 4) maximizing education to more effectively reach a larger population of SNAP participants.

That paper, entitled Policy Considerations for Improving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Making a Case for Decreasing the Burden of Obesity. Back in 2012 the ADHS team presented the recommendations and evidence at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting that year.

This month the American Journal of Public Health published a paper on a similar topic entitled Support for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Policy Alternatives Among US Adults

The article measures public and participant support regarding some important policy options like removing sugary drinks and candy from the allowable products for purchase list and providing SNAP participants with a supplemental benefit that could only be used for fruits and vegetables. The authors found that most respondents approved of both the restrictive policies (e.g. removing sugar drinks and candy from the buy list) and the supplemental policies tested.

Important information for Congress and the USDA to consider when the Farm Bill comes up for re-authorization next time- which will be in a few years. Honestly, with the obesity epidemic we’re facing- we really should be using all the policy levers we can to dial back obesity- but congress and the USDA have consistently resisted these policy options- perhaps out of fear of the junk food lobby?

Legislative Update

All the legislative committees have big long agendas this week – as the deadline for bills to be head in their house of origin committees is rapidly approaching.  So, this will be a busy week. 

Our policy interns Tim Giblin and Annissa Biggane have been doing a great job tracking all the bills that we’re signed up for and against and monitoring amendments and the like. Here’s their detailed summary of all the various public health related bills and where they are in the system right now.

We have an Action Alert this week regarding some bills that will have a detrimental effect on vaccination rates- so please follow through on that this week- you can see more about that below.

Bills to Be Heard in Committee This Week


HB 2597  School Safety Plan Task Force (Hernandez) AzPHA Position: Yes

This well-researched bill came out of a workgroup established by students at Mountain View High School. It takes a proactive approach to prevent school violence.  The Bill asks schools to develop plans to outline how teachers and staff will respond to crisis situations, how they respond to warning signs of emotional or behavioral distress among students, partnerships with agencies to refer students to support services, and what services they’ll provide after a violent incident. This important bill will be heard in the House Education Committee on Monday, February 18 at 2pm.  We’re signed up in favor of the bill.



SB1399  School Health Pilot Program (Pace) AzPHA Position: Yes

This bill charges the AZ Department of Education with conducting a 3-year physical and health education professional development pilot program to improve the ability of physical and health educators in this state to provide high quality physical and health education to students in this state, improving student health and reducing Arizona health care cost containment 10 system and other health-related costs.  Appropriates $9.5M for planning, implementing, and evaluating the pilot.  This important bill will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, February 18 at 2pm. We’re signed up in favor of the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.



SB 1165 Texting and Driving Prohibition (Brophy McGee) – AzPHA Position: YES

This bill prohibits using a hand-held cell phone while driving.  There are some common-sense exemptions for example if the person is using it hands free etc.  Penalties are a civil penalty (no driving points) with the first offense being between $75- $150 and the 2nd offense between $150 and $250.  We are signed up in support of this bill.  Will be heard in Senate Transportation Wednesday at 9 am.  We’re signed up in favor of the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.



HB 2471 Informed Consent (Barto) - AzPHA Position: Opposed

This bill would add a requirement that physicians provide to parents and guardians the full vaccine package insert and excipient summary for each vaccine that will be administered.  Physicians already provide a Vaccine Information Summary to parents and guardians for each vaccine administered, which is noted in the medical record.

This new requirement would mandate provision of the 12-15 page insert, which is not presented in a format that incorporates health literacy principles. Hearing will be Thursday, February 21 at 9 am in the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee.  We’re signed up opposed to the the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.


HB  2472 Vaccinations- Antibody Titer (Barto) - AzPHA Position: Opposed

These bills would mandate that doctors inform parents and guardians that antibody titer tests (which involve a venous draw) are an option in lieu of receiving a vaccination and that there are exemptions available for the state requirements for attending school.   Hearing will be Thursday, February 21 at 9 am in the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee.  Hearing will be Thursday, February 21 at 9 am in the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee.  We’re signed up opposed to the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.

HB 2470 Vaccination Religious Exemptions (Barto) - AzPHA Position: Opposed

This bill would add an additional exemption to the school vaccine requirements into state law.  Currently there are medical and personal exemptions.  The bill doesn't include any verification of the religious exemption from a religious leader, just a declaration from the parent that they are opposed to vaccines on religious grounds.  Hearing will be Thursday, February 21 at 9 am in the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee.  We’re signed up opposed to the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.

ACTION ALERT: Please contact the following Representatives and let them know that you oppose HB 2470, HB 2471 & 2472 as they will decrease immunization coverage and jeopardize herd immunity.

Please focus your attention on the lawmakers in bold- especially those of you that know them!


John Allen

Nancy Barto

Kelli Butler

Gail Griffin

Alma Hernandez

Jay Lawrence  

Becky A. Nutt

Pamela Powers Hannley

Amish Shah

Bills Heard in Committee Last Week

SB 1247 Residential Care Institutions (Brophy McGee) AzPHA Position: Yes

This good bill will require more robust staffing background checks for facilities that provide services for children and will remove the “deemed status” designation for child residential behavioral health facilities.  Under current law, facilities in this category (e.g. Southwest Key) can be accredited by a third party (e.g. Council on Accreditation) and avoid annual surprise inspections by the ADHS.

This intervention will provide more oversight to ensure background checks are done and that the facilities are compliant with state regulations.  This bill passed through the Senate Health & Human Services this week and will be moving to the floor.

SB 1211 Intermediate Care Facilities (Carter) AzPHA Position: Yes

Like SB 1247, this bill closes a licensing loophole.  This good bill will require more robust staffing background checks for facilities that provide services to people with disabilities at intermediate care facilities.  These facilities would also require a license to operate from the Arizona Department of Health Services beginning on January 1, 2020. 

Under current law these facilities (Hacienda de los Angeles and similar facilities run by the ADES are exempt from state licensing requirements This Bill passed the Senate Health & Human Services this week and will be moving to the floor.


SB 1088 Dental Care During Pregnancy (Carter) AzPHA Position: Yes

This bill would expand AHCCCS covered services to include comprehensive dental coverage during pregnancy and appropriate the required state match funding. Passed the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on 1/23.  This Bill passed through the Senate Appropriation Committee this week and will be headed to the floor next.


HB 2073 Vapor Products; Regulation (Shope) – AzPHA Position: Opposed

This bill would basically set up a quasi-regulatory program at the ADHS to license electronic cigarette manufacturers in Arizona and specify that only licensed electronic cigarette manufacturers can sell products in Arizona.  It gives no regulatory authority to the ADHS to enforce that vape shops get licensed and they only must do it every 5 years. There are no penalties for noncompliance and penalties are against the purchaser instead of the retailer.  This bill passed the House Health Committee by a 5-4 vote this week.


Bills that Have Passed a Chamber

SB 1009 Electronic Cigarettes, Tobacco Sales (Carter) – AzPHA Position: YES

Expands the definition of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes. Among other things, it'll make it clear that it's illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors. The penalty for selling to minors remains at $5K. Unanimously passed in the full Senate and was transmitted to the House this week.

SB 1040 Maternal Mortality Report (Brophy-McGee) – AzPHA Position: YES

This bill would require the Child Fatality Review Team subcommittee on maternal mortality to compile an annual statistical report on the incidence and causes of "severe maternal morbidity" with recommendations for action.  The current law requires a review of the data but no report.

Recently Passed Federal Public Health Legislation

Congress has passed several bills in the last few weeks related to public health.  Here’s a quick summary and links to the laws.

Improving Access to Maternity Care HR 315

This bill requires HRSA to identify maternity care health professional target areas and publish data comparing the availability of and need for maternity care health services in health professional shortage areas and areas within those areas.

Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018 HR 1318

This bill authorizes HHS grants to states to review maternal deaths, publish reports with the results.

PREEMIE Reauthorization Act of 2018  S 3029

This bill increases federal research on preterm labor and delivery, improve the care, treatment, and outcomes of preterm birth and low birthweight infants. 

Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 – The Farm Bill HR 2

The Farm Bill reauthorizes food security programs through FY23 including Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP) and SNAP nutrituon education.  It also removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which would legalize hemp production and therefore changes how CBD is regulated.

State Offices of Rural Health Reauthorization Act: S 2278

This bill reauthorizes $12.5M annually through FY22 for the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to make grants to each state office of rural health to improve health care in rural areas. This bill was approved by both the House and Senate but is not yet signed.

The Action for Dental Health Act of 2018

This bill provides an opportunity to improve oral health across the country.  The bill will provide additional resources to the CDC to increase funding for groups and organizations to qualify for federal grants that develop programs and expand access to oral health education and care in states and tribal areas

CDC will still need to flesh out the grant guidance in the coming months before they put out their announcement with the application and expectations. 

PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018  HR 6651

This bill extends certain provisions of the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003.

Sickle Cell Disease Research, Surveillance, Prevention, and Treatment Act of 2018  S 2465

This bill reauthorizes a sickle cell disease prevention and treatment program and to authorizes funding for grants for research, surveillance, prevention, and treatment of heritable blood disorders.

Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act S 2076

This bill would create an Alzheimer's public health infrastructure across the country to implement effective Alzheimer's interventions focused on public health issues such as increasing early detection and diagnosis, reducing risk and preventing avoidable hospitalizations.

Action Alert to Save Nutrition Education Programs

The Farm Bill is currently in its final negotiations, and important funding for SNAP-Ed programs in Arizona and across the country is at stake. We need your help to urge Congress to maintain the Senate version of the Farm Bill to save this critical support for these programs.

The SNAP-Ed program provides nutrition education and resources to thousands of Arizonans. If the Senate version of the funding is not maintained in the final Bill (expected to be approved before this congress exits), Arizona won’t be able to offer effective food and nutrition programs to low-income communities who need it, especially in Congressional Districts 1 and 3.  

The new House of Representatives funding formula would significantly shift SNAP-Ed grants away from more than 15 other states, thus ending programs for people in hundreds of low-income communities throughout the country. 

Click here to urge Congressman Tom O'Halleran and Congressman Raúl Grijalva to maintain the Senate version of the Farm Bill to save this critical support for these programs!

More States Implementing School-based Nutrition & Physical Activity Policies

Obesity remains a complex health issue in the United States. Several factors—including behavioral, environmental, and genetic—interact and contribute to increasing obesity rates. Approximately 19% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years old are obese and face a greater risk of developing chronic and other conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, asthma, and sleep apnea. By 2012, the estimated annual cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion, in addition to other social and emotional costs.

The causes of childhood obesity include unavailability of healthy food options, easy access to unhealthy foods, lack of physical activity, as well as policy and environmental factors that do not support healthy lifestyles. Schools play a significant role in diet and activity through the foods and drinks offered and the opportunities for physical activity provided.

Recognizing the unique position of schools, states have enacted and proposed legislation to prevent and reduce childhood obesity by: (1) ensuring that nutritious food and beverages are available at schools, and (2) establishing physical activity and education standards at schools. Below is an overview of current laws and recent state and territorial legislative activities to increase the availability of healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity in schools.

School Nutrition Legislation

Children and adolescents consume much of the food they need each day while at school. Children may receive meals from federal programs like the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, or they may purchase competitive food and drinks (i.e., food that’s purchased from school-based vending machines, snack bars, or concessions outside of the school’s food service program). Many states have adopted policies to make competitive foods healthier, set limits on food for rewards, and impose restrictions on food and beverage marketing in schools.

A Colorado statute prohibits public schools from making available any food or beverage that contains any amount of industrially produced trans-fat on school grounds. In Kentucky, each school must limit access to retail fast foods in cafeterias to no more than one day each week. Laws in New Jersey prohibit the sale of foods of minimal nutritional value, all food and beverage items listing sugar as the first ingredient, and all forms of candy on school property during the school day.

In 2017, California’s governor approved a bill limiting the advertisement of food and beverages during the school day in schools, school districts, or charter schools participating in federal lunch and breakfast programs. California also prohibited participation in corporate incentive programs that reward children with food and beverages that do not comply with nutrition standards. New Hampshire proposed similar legislation prohibiting the advertisement of any food or beverage that does not meet the minimum nutrition standards as set forth by the school district, as well as participation in a corporate incentive program that rewards children with food and beverages.

Recognizing that many schools lack the necessary equipment to support the storage, preparation, and service of minimally processed and whole foods, the Washington State legislature introduced a bill that would establish a competitive equipment assistance grant program for public schools to improve the quality of food service meals that meet federal dietary guidelines and increase the consumption of whole foods. In 2017, Puerto Rico proposed a bill requiring that vending machines located in public schools only contain products of high nutritional value according to the standards imposed by the federal government.

Physical Activity Legislation

According to CDC, children and adolescents should have one hour or more of physical activity every day. State policymakers often target physical activity and education curriculums in K-12 schools to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. Promising trends include: improving physical education curricula, integrating physical activity into the school day and maximizing recess opportunities, as well as enhancing physical activity opportunities in school-based after-school programs.

Many states have statutes in place or have proposed legislation imposing physical activity and education requirements in schools. Last legislative session, Arizona approved a new law mandating that public schools include recess in their curriculum. Other states have gone further. 

Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas require 30 minutes of physical activity each school day. Arkansas requires 90 minutes of physical activity each week for grades K-6. South Carolina sets a minimum standard of 150 minutes per week for grades K-5. Colorado requires 600 minutes of physical activity each month for full-time elementary students.  Tennessee amended its statute to require a minimum of 130 minutes of physical activity per full school week for elementary school students and a minimum of 90 minutes for middle and high school students.

Legislative Session Wrap-up & Farm Bill Stuff

Arizona’s Legislative Session in the Books

Well, the 2018 Legislative Session is in the books.  All in all, it was a good year for public health at the state level.  Several more good public health-related bills were signed today including:

HB 2324 Voluntary Certification for Community Health Workers

HB 2088 Public Health Guidelines in Schools

HB 2235 Dental Therapy Licensure

SB 1245 SNAP- Fruits and Vegetables

HB2371 Statewide Food Truck Licensing 

I’ll be doing a free Webinar about the legislative session Thursday May 17 at noon with the UA Center for Rural Health & the UA Telemedicine Program. Visit the AZ Telemedicine Program’s Website to register. 

Here's a link to a PowerPoint that summarizes the Victories, Missed Opportunities, Disappointments, and things that were in the final budget that link to public health. It's the ppt that I'll be using during the webinar on Thursday.


US Farm Bill: An Opportunity to Leverage Policy to Reduce Obesity

You’ve probably heard about the “Farm Bill” at one point or another.  While it’s called the Farm Bill- it’s not just about farms. It’s the bill that sets the food and agricultural budget and policy for the US. The bill impacts farming livelihood, and also determines how food is grown and which foods are grown.  It was last reauthorized by Congress in 2014 and Congress is now working on a new reauthorization.
The 2014 Farm Bill  (the  Agricultural Act of 2014) included some changes and reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.  In Arizona, SNAP benefits help put food on the table for more than one million people each month, with more than half of the benefits going to kids and teens.

The 2014 Farm Bill did a few things that promoted healthier options by requiring SNAP retailers to provide healthy choices. The ’14 law also provided grant programs to encourage people that receive SNAP benefits to buy more fruits and vegetables, provide funding for loan programs for healthy food retailers, and create opportunities for schools to add different kinds of vegetables as part of school menus.

We’re hoping that Stakeholders like us can better leverage the Farm Bill to improve healthy eating this time around now that we have a member of our delegation on the Agriculture Committee.  Arizona District 1 Congressman Tom O'Halleran is on the House committee. 

Back when I was at the ADHS we worked with ASU on a report to provide information to Congress about how SNAP could be leveraged to improve healthy eating.  The full report has the details but here are a few of the concepts in the evidence review:

  • Improving access to healthy food by establishing guidelines requiring SNAP vendors to carry more healthier options

  • Establishing nutrition standards for foods that qualify for purchase using SNAP benefits.  Right now, SNAP benefits can be used for basically any retail food no matter how unhealthy it is (alcohol can’t be purchased with SNAP benefits). 

  •  Making changes to the SNAP education program to incorporate evidence based public health practices to bring about sustained changes in participant behavior.

Rather than strengthen the food quality requirements, the bill currently being debated by the House Agriculture Committee would expand the existing SNAP work requirements.  Right now, SNAP requires childless adults between 18 and 49 who don’t have disabilities to work or be in work training to qualify. The draft legislation would expand the work requirement to include adults up to 59 and people who care for children older than 6. The draft bill also would set tighter time frames for recipients to find work and stiffen the penalties if they don’t.

SNAP recipients covered under the work requirement would have to document that they are working or getting job training for 20 hours a week. The first time an individual doesn’t comply with that requirement would trigger a loss of benefits for a year. Failing to comply again would result in being locked out of SNAP for three years.

The proposed changes would increase state costs by requiring states to collect monthly information from most SNAP users about their hours worked, their hours of participation in work programs, and the reasons they may not be working in a work program. 

The APHA has set up a way that you can Contact your representative today and urge them to include nutrition standards for foods to qualify for purchase under SNAP and also to comment about the new proposed work/work training requirements.


Sonoran Prevention Works Scores Syringe Access Grant

Sonoran Prevention Works received a $125,000 grant from the Vitalyst Health Foundation  to support advocacy and education for syringe access programs – a proven harm reduction strategy in response to the opioid crisis and rising hepatitis-C and HIV infection rates. They’ll be partnering with the University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson and Creosote Partners to destigmatize syringe access programs and understand the comprehensive needs of people who inject drugs.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will also work with Sonoran Prevention Works to implement a needle stick prevention program and to educate law enforcement on injection drug use. These partnerships will work to support policy change that treats substance use as a public health issue.

Arizona's 2018 Legislative Session in the Books

Well, Arizona’s legislative session ended last week, so you’re spared my impossibly long policy updates.  You can visit this PowerPoint to dive into the good things, bad things, and the missed opportunities this year.  It’s still a draft summary of the Session because the Governor hasn’t taken action on several bills (voluntary certification of community health workers, public health measures in schools, dental therapy, food truck licensing, and fresh produce in SNAP). BTW- Let me know if you see anything I've left out of the draft powerpoint so I can update it before my Webinar next week

I’ll be doing a Webinar about the legislative session on Thursday May 17 at noon in conjunction with the UA Center for Rural Health & the UA Telemedicine Program.  Visit the AZ Telemedicine Program’s Website to register.


FDA Finally Implementing ACA’s Menu Labeling Requirement

You might have noticed that more and more restaurants and fast food places are starting to put calorie and other nutrition information on their menus.  That’s not a coincidence or accident- they’re implementing the menu nutrition labeling requirements in the Affordable Care Act.  Section 4205 of the ACA requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie content information for standard menu items directly on the menu and menu boards.  Vending machine operators with 20 or more machines are also required to disclose calorie content for certain items. 

Nutrition clarity is a real opportunity for public health change.  Not only will the new labels give the public key information to help them make better decisions about what they buy for themselves and their families- it’ll give pause to restaurants before they label their menus- giving them an opportunity to change ingredients to lower calorie counts.  It may even spur a trend away from super-sizes and toward more appropriate and reasonable serving sizes.  With 32% of the calories consumed in the US tied to eating outside the home- this is an important opportunity. 

Anyway, the FDA announced this week that they’re finally implementing the requirements that were established by the ACA.  Another evidence-based policy intervention brought to you by the Affordable Care Act.


CMS Denies Kansas’ Request for 3-year Lifetime Medicaid Eligibility

This week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator denied Kansas’ request to impose a 3-year lifetime limits on Medicaid eligibility. 

Her decision bodes well for us in Arizona- at least when it comes to lifetime coverage limits (although CMS is poised to almost certainly approve AZ’s work/work training request).  Arizona law requires AHCCCS to annually ask CMS for permission to require work (or work training) and income reporting for “able bodied adults” and a 5-year lifetime limit on AHCCCS eligibility (with some exceptions).

A few months ago AHCCCS turned in their official waiver request asking permission to implement those requirements.  The AHCCCS Director recently postponed the negotiation process of the lifetime limit request to expedite approval of the work requirements.  See his letter here.  Word on the street is that AHCCCS expects approval of the work requirements in June.


Mid-year Federal Budget Cut Request

This week the White House submitted a special message to Congress requesting they rescind $15B bill in budget authority from the current fiscal year. The proposal includes unobligated balances from prior-year appropriations and reductions to budget authority for mandatory programs.

Below are selected programs proposed for rescission by the Administration that may impact public health programs. For more information, view the entire rescission proposal here.

  • Children’s Health Insurance Fund: The proposal would rescind $5B in amounts made available by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 to supplement the 2017 national allotments to states, including $3B in unobligated balances available on October 1, 2017. 

  • Child Enrollment Contingency Fund: The proposal would rescind $2B in amounts available for the CHIP Contingency Fund, of which there were $2.4B available. The Contingency Fund provides payments to states that experience funding shortfalls due to higher than expected enrollment. 

  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (Innovation Center): The proposal would rescind $800M in amounts made available for FY11-19 for the Innovation Center, of which there were $3.5B available on October 2017. The Innovation Center was created to test innovative payment and service delivery models to reduce program expenditures under Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP while preserving or enhancing quality care.


Speak for Health: Fund Public Health in 2019

As Congress begins its work on the FY 2019 appropriations process, Speak for Health and tell our members of Congress  to reject the proposed cuts to important public health programs in the president's budget proposal and instead to prioritize public health by building upon the important increased investments in public health provided by Congress in FY 2018.


Most of you know Dr. Bob England, who's been on the AZ public health scene for the last 30 years including 12 years as the Director of the Maricopa County Public Health Department.  You know that he's a terrific cartoonist.  But did you know he's an engaging travel writer?

Bob's been living for the last couple of months just outside of London.  He's been writing some terrifically entertaining travelogues- with a splash of public health of course. Take a few minutes when you're on a comfortable couch and enjoy Travelogue 1 & 2: Getting Settled.  Here’s Travelogue 3: Nutrition. Enjoy.


If you haven’t yet become a member of AzPHA please consider joining our team!

Here’s information about our Individual & Organizational Memberships