Born With A Silver Lining

Zachary A. Goldfarb highlights a recent study showing higher birth weights in poor communities:

Something extraordinary is happening to poor pregnant women…: They’re giving birth to healthier babies. While other economic and health disparities have widened, giving way to huge national debates about inequality, pregnant women at the lowest rung of the nation’s economic ladder are bucking that trend. They have narrowed the gap with wealthier women in the health of their babies.

While experts agree that government policy has been critical to boosting the health of poor newborns, the improvements aren’t because of a single policy or administration. Rather, they reflect improved access to care, as well as a complex array of other factors, some not easily within the government’s grasp to change, from pollution to nutrition to violence at home.

Jessica Grose argues that Medicaid expansion played a major role in this improvement:

It seems like common sense that babies whose mothers had access to adequate health care would do better than babies whose mothers did not have such access. But if you want to see more proof, you can look at the OECD’s paper on comparative child wellbeing across 30 different countries. When it comes to birth weight, the countries with big social safety nets and low levels of income inequality—it’s always the Scandinavians!—have the lowest incidence of low birth weights. The countries with a high percentage of low birth weight babies and high infant mortality rates—like Turkey and Mexico—also have high levels of income inequality.

Another factor that could improve outcomes for children of poor families? Nurturing classes:

[R]esearchers recruited 272 African American mothers and children residing in rural Georgia, half of which were living below the poverty line. Then, the researchers provided 173 of the mother-child pairs with 14 hours — or 7 weeks — of parental training when their children turned 11. The training taught parents how to speak to their kids about risky behaviors, household rules, racism, and alcohol use. The remaining mother-child pairs received pamphlets on child development and stress management through the mail instead.

Eight years later, the scientists took samples of the teenagers’ blood to determine their levels of inflammation. They also recorded other health variables, such as smoking and weight status, as well as the level of parental involvement that they experienced. They found that children whose parents had participated in the training had much lower levels of inflammation than the children of parents who didn’t.