Last month, our Director of Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) and Product Development Tamara Carlton discussed how transportation impacts the working class; this month, she’s exploring food insecurities and the impact they can have on maternal health.
When families and individuals face food insecurities, they are at increased risk of developing chronic disease and developmental issues, and often have a higher rate of hospitalization and readmissions. Data consistently shows that women in particular are vulnerable to food insecurity and its health consequences.
According to an article published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, although there is sufficient data about women’s health and food insecurities, there is little that exists about the actual impact of food insecurities during pregnancy on maternal and neonatal outcomes. Without truly understanding the impact of food insecurities on maternal health, positive outcomes cannot be created. Federal nutrition programs play a critical role in mitigating the physical and mental health consequences of food insecurity. Cara D. Dolin, MD, MPH says “Women’s health providers should implement universal screening for maternal food insecurity and offer resources to women struggling to feed themselves and their families.” Along with her colleagues Charlene Compher, PhD, RD and Jinhee Oh, MD, Cara continues by saying, “Reducing maternal health inequities in the U.S. involves recognizing and addressing food insecurity, along with other SDoH, and advocating for public policies that support and protect all women’s rights to healthy food during pregnancy.”
Nutritional support can address health factors that impact pregnancy outcomes, including financial outcomes. Approximately six to seven percent of U.S. pregnancies are high-risk, which contributes to increased rates of cesarean section and NICU admissions, almost doubling the cost of a normal pregnancy. A maternal health nutrition program can help mothers maintain a healthy diet, adhere to condition-appropriate eating guidelines, and avoid chronic diseases like gestational diabetes that are associated with high-risk pregnancies.
Supporting Maternal Health
Several states have begun targeting new maternal health benefits, programs, waivers, and quality measures. Laws such as the Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness Act and the Oral Health for Moms Act have been created in the fight against food insecurities in pregnant women. Federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) help women stretch their food dollars so they can get the nutrition they, or their household, need for a healthy life. Additionally, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and young children with nutritious foods, nutrition education, and improved access to healthcare in order to prevent nutrition-related health problems in pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood.
What MTM is Doing to Help
MTM has focused on improving health outcomes among food-insecure pregnant Medicaid members for quite some time. Earlier this year, we announced the launch of a pilot meal delivery program with MeridianHealth of Michigan, a program that delivers food to pregnant members in need. The pilot, which is part of Meridian’s efforts to reduce low birth weight, provides eligible members in the Detroit area boxes of necessities like proteins, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and shelf-stable items.
Heather Hartline-Grafton, Senior Advisor for SNAP, says in her article The Impact of Food Insecurity on Women’s Health, “Federal nutrition programs serve as critical supports for food-insecure women. They are working with networks of anti-hunger advocates across the country to protect and strengthen these and other vital nutrition programs.” Keeping this data and knowledge valid and available helps ensure that pregnant women, and other Americans nationwide who struggle with food insecurity, hunger, and other SDoH, get the help they need to lead healthier lives.