Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Raising healthy babies one neighborhood at a time

When it comes to raising healthy babies, public health workers know that prenatal care is not enough.

And in communities where infant mortality rates are high, it takes more than health care workers to turn the tide. It takes collaboration.

That’s where programs such as Best Babies Zone, which was the topic of its own Wednesday morning session, come in. Started by the University of California-Berkeley with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Best Babies Zone involves building coalitions of businesses, early childhood centers, health care and more to improve the quality of life in small geographic areas with high rates infant mortality, low birth weight newborns and preterm births.

The program kicked off in the neighborhoods of Castlemont in Oakland, California; Hollygrove in New Orleans; and Price Hill in Cincinnati, Ohio. Those same communities are marked by low economic development and poverty. In Price Hill, the child poverty rate is nearly 56 percent, said presenter James Greenberg, director of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Division of Neonatology, who works with Best Babies Zone in Price Hill.

“If we’re going to address these complex problems like infant mortality, multi-sector approaches are absolutely essential,” Greenberg said. “Not only does that mean we have to think of community, health and political factors all at once; but as health care providers we have to think about why it makes sense to provide incredibly expensive neonatal intensive care without addressing drivers.”

An example of collaboration in action was Healthy Homes Block by Block, in which women in the Price Hill neighborhood serve as block captains and go door-to-door to offer information about infant safe sleep practices, safe housing remediation and children’s books. After one year, there were 50 child safety upgrades and 780 children’s books delivered across five blocks, Greenberg said.

Out west in California, more than a third of the kids younger than 18 who live in Castlemont live below the poverty line, said Jessica Luginbuhl of the Alameda County Public Health Department, who works with the Best Babies Zone’s Castlemont program.

Realizing that economic development is integral to health, community members involved with Best Babies Zone worked with residents and local businesses to create the Castlemont Community Market. The market highlighted local shops and promoted residents who were also entrepreneurs.

Today, 450 people have attended the market since January, resulting in $3,400 going back into the local economy, she said.

“The life course undergirds the work we do,” Luginbuhl said. “The bottom line is health is greater than health care. We feel that peoples' health are products of environments they live in and the opportunities they have. Those vary by where you live.”

— N.M.

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