Pear in Mind: A blog in the public interest

This blog is co-authored by Emily English (UAMS), Kelly Dundon (UAMS), and Cassie Ramos (CSPI). It is the sixth in a series of posts highlighting our campaign partner organizations. 


Last year, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Office of Community Health and Research (UAMS/CHR) and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance (AHRA) partnered to learn directly from program participants how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can better support healthy eating for Arkansans who face barriers to accessing nutritious foods. Affordable healthy food access is a priority in the state of Arkansas.  Grocery gaps (areas with limited access to affordable healthy foods) are prevalent throughout the state as are high rates of food insecurity. Further, SNAP continues to remain underutilized in Arkansas. SNAP participation numbers in Arkansas are consistently and significantly lower than the national average: only 66% of eligible residents accessed SNAP in 2018, compared to 82% nationally.

Between March and August 2021, UAMS and AHRA conducted focus groups and interviews with SNAP participants and individuals who have experienced food insecurity within the last year. They were asked about how SNAP supports their health, how SNAP could better meet their needs, and their opinions on recommendations that have been proposed by policy experts to improve nutrition through SNAP. Engaging directly with those who would be most impacted by changes to SNAP helped UAMS and AHRA learn which strategies would be most helpful to SNAP shoppers.

The project also included a statewide convening with professionals from organizations that reflect a diversity in geographic locations, sectors, and service providers in Arkansas. Key informant interviews were conducted with individuals experienced with shaping Arkansas state SNAP policy. The convening and key informant interview participants discussed the recommendations made by SNAP participants and identified facilitators and barriers to pursuing those strategies.

This work resulted in broad consensus among Arkansas SNAP participants and stakeholders for the following strategies:

  • Increase and expand financial incentives for fresh fruits and vegetables so SNAP shoppers have more spending power for healthy foods. Currently, Double Up Food Bucks operates in 29 of 75 Arkansas counties, and expanding the program would allow more people to access fruit and vegetables.
  • Improve eligibility for enrollment in SNAP so everyone who needs the program is able to easily access it.
  • Increase SNAP benefit allocation and frequency of issuance in order to afford more food and help with budgeting SNAP benefits throughout the month.

These findings highlight the importance of changes that can be made to SNAP to ensure that more Arkansans are able to access the food they need to thrive. In support of that mission, the report of findings was recently shared with AHRA’s 500+ food bank, pantry, and other nutrition advocate members through an e-newsletter and multiple social media posts, as well as at last month’s Arkansas No Kid Hungry (NKH) campaign stakeholder meeting with health and education leaders and advocates.

SNAP provides assistance to some of Arkansas’s most vulnerable populations: children, seniors, people with disabilities, and individuals experiencing poverty. However, SNAP implementation in Arkansas still has room for improvement to ensure Arkansans in need are supported efficiently and effectively. The findings of this project indicate that SNAP participants and key stakeholders believe important changes need to be made to the program. Results from this project also point to the need to address the stigma associated with SNAP and more broadly, public assistance, as many participants reported feeling embarrassment or discrimination for using the programs. Improving the administration and implementation of SNAP in ways that destigmatize public assistance could not only get more food on Arkansas tables, but also improve health outcomes that are negatively influenced by poverty. Through these improvements we can get closer to closing the gap between Arkansans eligible for SNAP benefits and those receiving benefits, as well as improving the adequacy of benefits received and access to nutritious food.

The full report can be found here.


University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report recognized UAMS Medical Center as a Best Hospital for 2021-22; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide for the third year; and named five areas as high performing — colon cancer surgery, diabetes, hip replacement, knee replacement and stroke. Forbes magazine ranked UAMS as seventh in the nation on its Best Employers for Diversity list. UAMS also ranked in the top 30% nationwide on Forbes’ Best Employers for Women list and was the only Arkansas employer included. UAMS has 3,047 students, 873 medical residents and fellows, and six dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.

The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance is a collaborative organization that works on behalf of and with Arkansans facing hunger. AHRA works with local, state, and federal organizations to keep food on the tables of Arkansans by advocating on food policy, building reliable food systems, increasing participation in food programs, and providing technical assistance and resources. AHRA was an invaluable asset in this research by providing assistance in project planning and design, participant outreach, and dissemination of the final report through social media and email campaigns, and a blog post that can be found here.

For more information about this project, please contact Emily English at

This project is one of seven statewide community engagement projects funded by CSPI during 2021-2022. For more information on CSPI’s SNAP work, please visit our website or contact Joelle Johnson at