Heart Association urges Gov. Cuomo to reinstate full funding for public health programs

 Governor Cuomo’s public health cuts will make a bad problem worse, said the American Heart Association in response to his proposed 2021 budget.

“The governor is proposing cuts to the Tobacco Control Program, the Obesity Prevention Program, and the Hypertension Program,” said Jonathan Henderson, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and past president of the American Heart Association in Utica. “Among the three programs, he’s proposing to cut $8.3 million. We understand the budget constraints the state faces, but this $8.3 million won’t make a big difference in the amount we save, and it has the potential to create much bigger problems. Health costs return with a vengeance when they aren’t treated. The pandemic has exacerbated many health issues, and without public health programs, we will see the effects far too soon.”

COVID-19 and cardiovascular diseases share many of the same risk factors – like obesity, high blood pressure and smoking. So not providing a mechanism to curb those conditions could increase the risk of COVID-19.

People with heart disease or stroke don’t do as well if they get COVID, further increasing the need for public health programs in the state.

“Funding these programs is also a health equity issue,” Dr. Henderson said. “We know that the tobacco industry gave menthol-flavored cigarettes away to communities of color, addicting people to their deadly products. More than 35% of people of color have obesity, too often untreated. And diabetes rates are extremely high among Black and Latinx people. These programs, which we consider underfunded anyway, really can’t be cut any further.”

Tobacco, obesity, and high blood pressure cost the state of New York more than $20 billion per year.

“Let’s also talk about how COVID is affecting everyone,” Dr. Henderson said. “First of all, not fighting these risk factors puts a whole population at risk of contracting more severe cases of COVID. Second, let’s look at the lifestyle changes COVID has forced upon us. Many people are working at home now, and because there’s less to do, people aren’t getting out as much as they used to. So we’re sitting a lot more, which we know isn’t good for our hearts, and between the social isolation and stress of a pandemic, our mental health is suffering. And how do we comfort ourselves? Smoking, skipping the workout, and eating more unhealthy food. What does that lead to? Hypertension and obesity – exactly what we are working so hard to fight.

“Frankly, we’re flummoxed by this decision on the Governor’s part, and hope he will reconsider and fully fund the Tobacco Control Program, the Obesity Prevention Program, and the Hypertension Program.”