Behavioral, maternal health worsening among children, women, report finds

A physician's stethoscope
With data on behavioral and maternal health, primary care providers have a jumping-off point to observe trends that are specific to their community, said Rhonda Randall, D.O., executive vice president and chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual. (Getty/millionsjoker)

Behavioral and maternal health are deteriorating among children and women, a recent report found. 

The 2021 Health of Women and Children report, part of America’s Health Rankings, was put together by the United Health Foundation. It analyzed 118 measures from 35 data sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration and the U.S. Census. 

Despite some positive developments, like a national decrease in teenage birth rates and smoking among women, these improvements were not level across the board. Between 2013 and 2019, the teen birth rate was 7.6 times higher in American Indian and Alaska Native populations than in Asian and Pacific Islander populations. And women of lower socioeconomic status, as well as American Indian and Alaska Native women, had higher rates of smoking prevalence. 

“The information contained in the report really leads you to a call to action,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., executive vice president and chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual, in an interview with Fierce Healthcare. 

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Low birth weight rates have remained stagnant since 2017, “reflected in the lack of progress in addressing disparities” the report said. Infants born to Black mothers were more than twice as affected than infants born to white mothers. Low-risk C-section rates also lacked progress, decreasing only 2% between 2014 and 2019, from 26% to 25.6%, despite targeted public health efforts. As with low birth weight rates, Black mothers are highly affected. High maternal mortality rates persist in certain states like Kentucky and also affect Black mothers significantly more than their Hispanic and white counterparts, the report found.

From 2019 to 2020, with data including the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, childhood anxiety increased 21%. Those data included nearly 5.6 million children aged three to 17. 

“Screening for behavioral health, if it’s not already part of your practice, needs to become part of the norm,” Randall said. Going forward, she said, America’s Health Rankings will be monitoring how potential delays in care, which have “longstanding implications for health,” will affect women and children.

Randall emphasized the need for a “multifactorial solution,” saying there isn’t just one answer to most trends found in the report. Change will require “partnerships, individuals, communities, policy makers and the healthcare system to collaborate together,” she said. 

With these data, primary care providers have a jumping-off point to observe trends that are specific to their community, Randall said. America’s Health Rankings' website contains population health trends in an interactive format and can be broken down to a localized level, which is, Randall said, the most effective place to start addressing the disparities found in the report. Randall believes community-based partnerships are key; since 2018, UnitedHealthcare has invested more than $40 million in grants to expand access to care through those partnerships.