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How Social Determinants of Health Can Impact a Healthy Pregnancy

Dr. Creshelle Nash

Every mother deserves to have a healthy, safe pregnancy. Yet, this is not the experience for everyone. Many expectant mothers do not live near a grocery store with heathy foods, lack transportation to doctor appointments or lack education about good prenatal care. These women are experiencing the adverse impacts of social determinants of health and often have tougher pregnancies.

Social determinants of health have a greater impact on health than genetic factors or healthcare access. Together, all these factors are important and contribute to a mother’s health. At Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we are working to identify and address barriers to care, making sure that all Arkansans and their families can lead healthy, happy lives with access to quality care.

What are “social determinants of health”?

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the non-medical factors that influence health. Their impacts are widespread and deeply ingrained in our society. Just as living close to a park can be a positive, some social determinants can limit health for members of our communities. These are just a few examples of social determinants of health:

  • Employment and job security
  • Food security
  • Housing, transportation and basic amenities
  • Early childhood development
  • Access to affordable health services of high quality for all

These Determinants Impact People in Different Ways

Beyond these factors, inequality in healthcare stems from structural and systematic discrimination which can limit access to the things that make you healthy, leading to increased stress that impacts your health mentally and physically. These issues can impact anyone in Arkansas. Black women, in particular, can experience worse health outcomes due to these disparities.  And when deciding to start a family, the stakes can be even higher.  Black women have a higher risk for health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Lived experiences can also add mental health stress when pregnant, increasing the risk for complications during pregnancy.

Addressing these factors is critical because they impact a mother and baby’s health. If a mother has consistent access to transportation to a hospital or care center, she is more likely to be able to get doctor checkups on a regular basis. If she has a doctor who hears and understands or shares her culture or background, she is able to have more meaningful check ins with her doctor on her health, and the health of her baby.

It is important to note that while SDOH can affect different people and communities, they are not always experienced in the same way. For example, a mother may not have food security due to unemployment. Her unemployment status may be due to discrimination experienced during the hiring process because of pregnancy or other factors. This can impact her ability to afford insurance, which will limit access to health services. Whatever the combinations are, the bottom line is that every mother and her baby deserve to have a healthy pregnancy and life. This is why we are aiming to create more services to help mothers, families, and communities have healthier pregnancies.

How We’re Supporting Maternal Health

We are committed to investing in the bright futures of Arkansan families. And that investment starts with supporting expectant mothers. One of the ways we work to provide quality maternal healthcare to our members at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield is through our whole person approach to healthcare. Our approach aims to determine and address all aspects of a person’s health. Instead of focusing on a single health function, we assist in addressing the many interconnected factors that influence patients’ lives. Understanding the links between history, policy, social and economic disparities in physical and behavioral health, we are working to identify high-risk mothers before they become pregnant. And we’re developing programs that will make a difference for Arkansans, such as access to our care management and social work teams and health education resources.

Becoming a mother should be a joyous time filled with love and support. We are committed to doing our part to support expectant mothers on their pregnancy journey- before, during, and post-partum as they raise the next generation of Arkansans.

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