In response to COVID-19, Congress has passed several pieces of legislation to assist families and businesses, as well as promote medical research. Notably, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), passed on March 27, provided billions of dollars in support for federal nutrition programs to feed families and school children. The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, passed April 24, provided the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with funding for COVID-19 research and testing.
During this pandemic, cancer patients and survivors are facing unique challenges. A recently conducted survey by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) found that half of cancer patients and survivors reported some change, delay or disruption to their health care due to COVID-19. In addition to concerns regarding treatment and care, 38 percent of respondents also noted the financial impacts of COVID-19, which may affect their ability to pay for care. A study also found that individuals with certain types of cancer are more likely to experience more severe outcomes if they develop COVID-19.
From stay at home orders preventing research from moving forward, to delays in accessing research funding and funding being diverted to COVID-19 research, cancer researchers are also being affected by COVID-19. Through our educational and advocacy efforts, AICR supports sound policies that will provide investment in cancer research, resources for cancer patients and survivors and an environment that supports proper nutrition and physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Federal legislation to address COVID-19 will have an impact on cancer prevention, treatment and research in a few specific ways.
Support for Cancer Research
The federal Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act provides $25 billion for COVID-19 testing and tracing. This includes $1.8 billion for NIH, $306 million of which will go to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). As part of our advocacy efforts, AICR has joined the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, a coalition of more than 330 patients and voluntary health groups, medical and scientific societies, academic and research organizations and industries. In a letter addressed to congressional lawmakers, this coalition has asked Congress for an additional $31 billion in medical research funding in a future COVID-19 relief bill. This funding will support additional COVID-19-related research activities, preserve the momentum of the nation’s investment in biomedical research and provide long-term investment in rebuilding the biomedical research enterprise. AICR was successful in getting several members of Congress to sign on to the letter and support this funding. AICR will continue to advocate for additional federal investment in research at NIH and NCI.
Support for Nutrition Programs
AICR is pleased to see funding included in the COVID-19 relief legislation for providing healthy foods to families through federal nutrition programs. With millions of children being out of school and families facing financial hardships due to unemployment, the CARES Act will provide funding for several nutrition programs to assist these families in need. Included in the legislation is almost $16 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to provide benefits to an increased number of families.
An additional $8.8 billion was allocated to child nutrition programs for food purchases, as well as to give schools more flexibility to provide meals to students. Another $450 million was allocated for distribution of emergency food assistance through community partners, such as food banks.
While providing foods to families through federal nutrition programs during this time is important, it is also important to ensure that these programs align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to help maintain health and prevent chronic diseases, like cancer. As one of its priority issues, AICR advocates that the federal Dietary Guidelines align with AICR’s current evidence regarding nutrition and cancer.
Policies to Support Healthy Eating and a Healthy Weight
AICR advocates for policies that make it easier for people to eat healthy and be physically active to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. This is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On its list of risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) included having a BMI of 40 or above. In addition, individuals with high BMIs are more likely to have breathing problems, putting them at higher risk for lung dysfunction if they contract the virus. While we continue to support individuals through our educational resources, our policy priorities related to proper nutrition and physical activity also play an important role in supporting a healthy weight for all Americans. AICR continues to advocate for new and innovative policies to make it easier for people eat better and move more.
As part of the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) International network, we also support WCRF’s recommendations for governments to improve the food environment and prioritize health-promoting policies during this time.
The current pandemic has demonstrated the importance of investments in disease prevention and public health. AICR applauds the inclusion of nutrition, research and public health in federal legislation aimed at helping families, health-care workers and researchers during this time.
While research priorities may have shifted to fight the virus, we will continue to advocate for the necessary funding and resources for the cancer research community. We will also continue to support policies that make it easier for individuals to eat better and move more to reduce cancer risk and increase survivorship.