When any family is expecting a new baby, the first hope is that the baby is born healthy.
Unfortunately several of Texas’ key indicators show that not all children have the same likelihood of reaching these milestones or celebrating their first birthday.
This week we’re heading to Fort Worth to release our State of Texas Children 2016: Race and Equity in Fort Worth report. The data show that in Tarrant County, infants born to Black mothers are at greater risk for premature birth, low birthweight and death during the first year of life.
Tarrant County Infant Health Indicators, 2013
(Percentage or rate out of total live births in each racial/ethnic category)
Although there is no single reason for these disparities, research shows that social factors play a big role. In particular, high levels of chronic stress experienced by mothers is one important factor that increases the risk of low-birthweight and preterm birth. Food insecurity and challenges finding employment for mothers increases the risk of low birthweight. The lack of prenatal care and instances of domestic violence have been connected to preterm birth.
Women’s heath also influences the health of their babies—healthier moms make for healthier kids. This includes not only common physical health conditions that affect infant health, such as high blood pressure or obesity, but mental health conditions as well. Untreated perinatal depression in mothers is associated with poorer physical and behavioral health in children, as well as increased risk of child maltreatment. One important finding from a randomized, controlled study showed that expanding Medicaid for uninsured, low-income adults reduced observed rates of depression by 30 percent through increased screenings and access to treatment.
However, our current policy choices mean that many women lack access to care that supports the physical and mental health of women. It’s estimated that 24 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 lack health insurance in Tarrant County. Many of these uninsured women fall into the Coverage Gap and have no options for insurance. They may be working but without employer-sponsored health coverage, and their incomes do not qualify them for public health insurance or financial assistance to help pay for Marketplace coverage. That means no regular access to mental health care, the most effective forms of contraception, or treatment of chronic conditions for over 100,000 women in Tarrant County. Closing the Coverage Gap would provide many of these women access to important health care before, during and after pregnancy and boost the odds for babies’ health.
There are also many things the state can do once a child is born to ensure they grow up to lead healthy and prosperous lives. We can ensure Texas children have consistent access to food and are educated in exceptional schools. To see our full policy recommendations and the issues they address with a special focus on issues of racial equity, read our state and Fort Worth reports.