Tag Archive | Second Wave-Michigan

OKT’s Ms. Yvonne Woodard featured in news story

As awareness of racism’s role in infant mortality grows,
Michigan takes action
Reposted from SecondWave Media
Grand Rapids resident Yvonne Woodard has had several low birth weight children and grandchildren
This article is part of State of Health, a series about how Michigan communities are rising to address health challenges. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

For Black infants, racism’s impacts begin at birth – and may be deadly.
 
In 2018 in Michigan, more than three times as many Black babies died before their first birthday as white babies. Black mothers fare even worse, with maternal mortality rates that are 4.5 times higher than non-Hispanic white women. An underlying factor in Black infant mortality is low birth weight (LBW). When LBW babies survive, they face a host of medical problems that often have lifelong consequences.

“When we take a long view, maternal and infant mortality across the U.S. has been declining but it is still an issue when the U.S. is compared to other wealthy nations. We are not doing as well,” says Amber Bellazaire, policy analyst with the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) and author of its report, “Thriving babies start with strong moms: Right Start 2020.” “… When we drill down further, we see those disparities in racial outcomes.”

“Racism is oftentimes an underlying value of the disparities seen,” adds Dawn Shanafelt, director of Maternal and Infant Health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). “We have systems of care that have been built in this society, which is plagued with structural, systemic racism. The system for medical care continues to perpetuate these. It’s been evident in the experiences that have been published by families receiving maternal care. The bias is very clear.”

However, the link between racism and health impacts for Black babies is becoming increasingly better understood and acknowledged – and practitioners across Michigan are coming together to address it.
 The “weathering” effect of racism
 As a Black mother and grandmother, Grand Rapids resident Yvonne Woodard has experienced firsthand the way racial disparities have affected her children and grandchildren’s health. Her first baby weighed five pounds, seven ounces. Her fifth and last weighed four pounds, eight ounces.
 “They all came to term. My first was overdue,” she says. “They just kept getting smaller.”
Yvonne Woodard holds a family photo.Woodard’s first grandson weighed one pound, eight ounces. Now nine years old, he has just learned how to say “mama.” Woodard’s granddaughters weighed three and four pounds.

 “It’s not a good feeling,” she says. “A doctor had told me, ‘It’s because you are African-American and it’s in your family.’ I thought, ‘I am going to be sick because of my race and background?’ It doesn’t make sense that it’s hereditary.”

 Woodard’s experience reflects the results of “weathering.” As retold in Bellazaire’s report, University of Michigan professor and researcher Arline Geronimus found that exposure to chronic stress — like the stresses of facing racial discrimination day after day – leads to early health deterioration.

 “Continual attempts to cope with cumulative stress — not just one negative experience but a combination over the life course — leads to a high allostatic load or ‘wear and tear’ on the body,” Bellazaire wrote in the MLPP report. “This wear and tear leads to racial health disparities across a range of medical conditions, including disadvantages in pregnancy and childbirth.”

 As a woman who has deeply researched her own medical conditions, Woodard agrees. “Stress contributes a lot,” she says. “Your nervous system actually has a memory.”

 Geronimus’ research found that in the U.S., non-Hispanic Black women have the highest incidence of weathering. While Black women moving to the U.S. more recently have outcomes similar to white women, those who have lived here all of their lives fare the worst, no matter how much money they have or how advanced their education.

 “There are many factors that interact and inform pregnancy-related outcomes. Racial disparity and bias is one,” Bellazaire says. “This is borne out in evidence, not just in what people feel, anecdotes, or opinions. Consistent research suggests that when we hold things the same, education, socioeconomic status, and healthy behaviors, we continue to see these disparities by race.”

 When health care systems operate with racial biases, whether they are recognized or not, that stress can be intensified. Practitioners may assume that Black women have Medicaid insurance coverage, are single mothers, lack education, or are using illegal drugs. According to a 2019 American Progress report, the intersectionality of racism and sexism often results in women of color experiencing bias and discrimination in health care settings, leaving them to feel invisible or unheard when they ask their medical providers for help or try to communicate their symptoms.

 “When I had the last baby, I moved from New York to Virginia. I told the new doctor what’s going to happen … and of course he didn’t believe me,” Woodard says. “I was female and Black. He didn’t believe that I know my own body.”

 “If you do not have access to respectful and responsive care, your health is going to be affected,” Bellazaire adds. “It’s as simple as if you feel unsupported or unheard, you may be less likely to receive care. We know that not receiving consistent prenatal care certainly affects Michigan’s outcomes. We want to make sure we are encouraging respectful, responsive care for all Michigan women if we care to improve outcomes.”

 Respect and response
 Although the statistics on racial disparities in infant health are disheartening, awareness of the issue is growing and Michigan is taking steps to address it. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed expansion of Michigan’s Healthy Moms Healthy Babies program shines a spotlight on racial maternal-infant health disparities and establishes a plan to decrease them. The plan states, “As a part of comprehensive health care for women we will ask a woman what she wants, ensure she can get it in one visit, and provide coverage for it.”

Dawn Shanafelt.In developing the plan, MDHHS staff met with residents across the state in town hall-style meetings to learn about their experiences, needs, and suggestions.

 “I think we are transforming the way we are doing things,” Shanafelt says. “We made it clear that we don’t just want the state to come by and do its thing. We want open communication. We had our team of epidemiologists be a part of meetings so we could share data with communities and really show that we are invested in a partnership.”

 First and foremost, Healthy Moms Healthy Babies expands health care coverage for low-income new moms to a full year after giving birth. The plan has established nine Regional Perinatal Quality Collaboratives (RPQCs) comprised of health care professionals, community partners, families, faith-based organizations, Great Start Collaboratives, home visiting agencies, and others who will focus on improving birth outcomes through quality improvement projects tailored to the strengths and challenges of each region.

 Moving the first postpartum health care visit to within three weeks of birth and adding a comprehensive visit within 12 weeks will better support new mothers with postpartum depression and anxiety, breastfeeding challenges, or substance use disorders. Training in implicit bias will teach health care providers to better listen to women of color. Proven effective, home visiting programs will support women and babies in achieving better health while sharing information that will help them and their partners recognize developmental milestones, gain parenting skills, and access resources for housing, food security, or family planning.

 “Really, what Healthy Moms Healthy Babies does is improve systems so we have sustainable change, [with the goal of] zero preventable deaths and zero disparities,” Shanafelt says. “Whether you live in Detroit or Traverse City, we want you to have the best possible chance of having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby wherever you deliver.”
 While racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality remain a problem, Michigan is actively charting paths towards health equity — with an emphasis on new moms and their babies. But as Woodard emphasizes, the long-term answer will go beyond policy change.
Yvonne Woodard.“Peoples’ hearts have to change,” she says. “… We Black women are no different [from white women]. The parts of our body are in the same place. It’s about domination. One day, people will realize this. One day, it’s going to be so much better.”

 Yvonne Woodard photos by Kristina Bird. All other photos courtesy of the subjects.
  

Michigan wastes massive amounts of food.

Here’s how it can be rescued to improve people’s health.

Reposted from Second Wave-Michigan State of Health Series

harvest-7_(custom).jpg

Food Rescue US reports that over 50 million Americans are food insecure, while over 40 billion meals are wasted each year — and 40% of the U.S. food supply rots in landfills. The solution is obvious: deliver this food to people who need it instead of to the dump. Food rescue operations in Michigan are doing their best to make that happen – and positively affecting public health in the process.

According to a Centers for Disease Control report, A Public Health Opportunity Found in Food Waste, “The United States has an epidemic of food insecurity and obesity that coexists in the same population (low-income families on a budget). Moreover, fruits and vegetables, which are linked to improving health and preventing chronic disease, are also perishable and commonly wasted.”

Obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it — diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, sleep apnea, and some cancers — are only a few of the medical issues resulting from poor nutrition. Behavioral health issues can take root in a poor diet, too. And as housing, childcare, and transportation costs viciously outpace wages, more and more working families are finding themselves without the means to provide good food for their families.

Kirk Mayes, CEO of Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue organization serving Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, says the need for emergency food is increasing despite improvements in state employment numbers. A lot of working people live paycheck to paycheck, and any life crisis can put them in a vulnerable situation that forces them to choose between buying food and paying the rent.

“Inflation has outpaced wages for decades, so people struggle to keep up,” Mayes says. “It’s more difficult for the average family to keep pace with rising expenses.”

Emergency food can provide those families a way to get their health back on track.

angie.jpgGood food = good health

Samantha McKenzie is president and CEO of Hidden Harvest, another Michigan food rescue serving the Bay, Midland, and Saginaw region.

“All of our food pantries say that they are getting more and more people who have never been to a pantry before,” she says. “We take a resource that already exists and make sure it gets put on the dinner table instead of in the garbage bin. Our donors don’t want to throw away good food. They feel real positive about where it’s going and we’re happy to share it.”

In 2018, 300 donors gave Hidden Harvest 2.5 million pounds of food — about 200,000 pounds a month. Hidden Harvest delivers the rescued food to 170 nonprofits including soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, and youth programs.

oranges.jpgHidden Harvest’s food rescue efforts directly integrate good nutrition into the healthcare system through donations to substance abuse rehab centers, where food donations free up funds for treatment options; and health clinics like Saginaw’s Hearth Home, which treats people living with HIV and AIDS.

“They need items high in protein and rich in vitamins and nutrients. We direct these foods their way as it helps their medications to be more effective,” McKenzie says. “Fresh produce is a proven cancer preventative. There are many positive reasons why good health depends on having a well-rounded diet.”

Forgotten Harvest’s 30 refrigerated trucks glean food from 400 partners at 800 locations — grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers growing food in Macomb County and Ontario, Canada. The nonprofit also grows food on 100 acres of land in Fenton.

“If we’re giving them corn, it’s probably an ear,” Mayes says. “If it’s green beans, it’s a bunch, not a can. We’re one small part of the set of things people got to do to be healthy.”

Because the operation specifically takes in food that no longer meets retail specs, nutrient-rich perishables like dairy products and meats are in abundance. From its warehouse in Oak Park, the full-time drivers deliver to more than 250 pantries, churches, community centers, and community-based organizations with food-related missions.

“We see a little bit of everything,” Mayes says. “There is no shortage of variety in the things we come across.”

Grocery stores do their part

Kroger, ALDI, Trader Joe’s, and Meijer are among the many Michigan retailers who operate robust food rescue operations. Michigan-based Meijer’s effort began with 29 stores in southeast Michigan in 2008. Now all 235 of its stores rescue food, and they donated over 10.6 million pounds in 2018.

Many of Michigan’s smaller retailers take part in food rescue too. Busch’s Fresh Food Markets, a 15-store independent grocery chain headquartered in Washtenaw County, partners with Washtenaw County-based food rescue nonprofit Food Gatherers, as does the single-location People’s Food Co-op of Ann Arbor.

sausgae.jpgThe Co-op rescues about 200 pounds of food a month, not as an afterthought but to support its primary goal of promoting health and economic justice. Its donations include fresh produce and dairy products, as well as canned and boxed goods.

“We actually have a bunch of different reasons for rescuing food,” says Angie Voiles, Peoples Food Co-op general manager. “Through our commitment to the triple bottom line, it is environmentally sustainable to rescue and donate food instead of putting it into a landfill. From a social justice perspective, the co-op was founded and continues to strive to provide access to healthy food throughout the entirety of our community, at the retail level and also through food rescue.”

Voiles says her own health improved after switching to a whole foods diet. She believes that confirms research that has found eating fresh produce and less-processed foods contributes to improved physical and mental health.

“We want to get healthy, whole foods into the hands of as many people as possible,” she says.

Silver linings, logistics, and a long way to go

Rescued food can include much more than grocery store items nearing a sell-by date. Shipping or packaging errors, or failure to reach other specifications that have nothing to do with quality, can turn perfectly good food into waste. Mayes says well over 75 billion pounds of food is classified as waste in the U.S. every year.

In addition to helping more Michiganders be healthy, food rescue helps donor businesses by reducing disposal costs and providing tax breaks. It also helps the environment by diverting food waste from the landfill to the table.

“You never know when there’s going to be a truck accident, a shipment that a shipping company doesn’t know what to do with, weddings cancelled because of soap-opera stuff, a catering company doing an outdoor event in terrible weather, or a funeral dinner with leftovers,” McKenzie says. “We put it to good use. There’s always a silver lining.”

However, food rescue efforts are making only a small dent in the vast amounts of food waste. Feeding America, one of the country’s largest food rescue organizations, reports having rescued just 3.5 billion of the 72 billion pounds of food wasted last year in the U.S.

Experts from the state’s food industry, healthcare systems, government, and nonprofit sectors need to forge even more successful collaborations to ensure that healthy foods are not thrown away, but instead made readily available to all Michigan residents, starting with children and those experiencing chronic illness.

“Food insecurity is unfortunately a problem that is prevalent in almost every underserved and middle-class community in America,” Mayes says. “The volume of food rescue food puts us in a place where addressing hunger is no longer a food problem. It’s a logistics problem.”

A freelance writer and editor, Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellness, and the arts. She is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media, communications manager for Our Kitchen Table, and chairs The Tree Amigos, City of Wyoming Tree Commission. Her finest accomplishment is her five amazing adult children. You can contact Estelle at Estelle.Slootmaker@gmail.com or www.constellations.biz.

Hidden Harvest photos by Ben Tierney. Angie Voiles photo courtesy of Ken Davis.