“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — The Lorax, Dr. Seuss
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our lives in ways we could never have predicted. For the lucky ones, it meant only weeks of working from home. For many others, the pandemic either has or will result in financially devastating layoffs. Along with the loss of a paycheck, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 27 million people lost health insurance when they lost their jobs. For those already in poverty, a loss of access to health insurance and/or healthcare has devastating effects on the health of families and their children.
Following a tragedy, often great opportunities emerge. As a community we must learn from this event and do what we can to better our outcomes for all going forward. Even before the pandemic in 2017, 36.7% of families with children under 5 years old were living in poverty in Shreveport-Bossier (Community Counts 2019). While the long term financial and health effects of the virus will not be known for some time, there are some clear and immediate conclusions to be drawn. One conclusion is that the healthier our population is, the more resilient we will be if faced with another pandemic. Keeping our population healthy is not just about eating fruits and vegetables and exercising as adults. In fact, predictors of a person’s adult health begin even before birth. It is vital to the future of our community that we ensure our expectant mothers and their infants have equitable access to healthcare and have all of their needs met.
From 2011-2017, the percentage of live births with low birth weight in the Shreveport-Bossier MSA was 13.3% (Community Counts 2019). Low birth weight (LBW) is the percentage of live births where the infant weighed less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. LBW impacts an infant’s current and future morbidity, as well as premature mortality risk. From the perspective of maternal health outcomes, LBW indicates maternal exposure to health risks in all categories of health factors including the mother’s health behaviors, access to health care, the social and economic environment she inhabits, and environmental risks to which she is exposed. In terms of the infant’s health outcomes, LBW serves as a predictor of both premature mortality and morbidity over the child’s life span and potential cognitive development problems.
Shreveport-Bossier has one of the highest percentages (13.3%) of low birth weight in the state of Louisiana. Further, the overall low birth rate of Louisiana is 10.9%, one of the highest in the nation. The national average is 8% and 6% is among the best for communities in the US. Thus, Shreveport-Bossier has some of the worst birth outcomes in the entire country. This is a preventable health crisis. As a community, Shreveport-Bossier must work together to solve this crisis.
All babies deserve an equitable shot at a healthy adulthood. Ensuring expectant mothers have equitable access to healthcare, prenatal care, postnatal care, mental health resources, and parental resources are just a few ways we as a community can begin to positively effect babies’ health outcomes. Ensuring our babies are healthy, paves the way to a brighter and healthier future for our entire community. As a community, we owe this to our children. We can do better. We must do better. We will do better.
This article was written by CFNLA CEO Kristi Gustavson and originally published in the Shreveport Times on July 17, 2020.