Beginnings Guides Blog
disparities, low health literacy begin in poverty
Despite some encouraging news in the just-released annual
state rankings for child well-being, Annie E Casey Foundation reports large
numbers of children of all racial and ethnic groups are facing economic
conditions that can impede long-term success. In 2013 (latest figures) in the world's richest country, 22%
of all children
live below the poverty line —$24,250 annual
income for a family of 4. According to the Economic Policy Institute it takes
at least twice that amount to provide basic essentials. It's worse than the
average suggests. Here is where
health disparities begin: 39% of African American children, 37% of Native American children, 33% of Hispanic children
live in poverty. Compared to 14% of white children.
"When very young children experience poverty, particularly if that poverty is deep and persistent, they are at high risk of encountering difficulties later in life - having poorer adolescent health, becoming teen mothers, dropping out of school and facing poor employment outcomes."
Implications for health literacy improvement
These figures jumped out at me since preliminary findings
from my current research suggest that basic essentials —-
safe housing, adequate food, transportation, health insurance, and child care — are
prerequisites for developing maternal health literacy, mothers' ability to use
information and services to keep healthy and raise and healthy competent child.
It makes sense that no amount of reading skill, understanding of healthcare, or
knowledge of preventive practices can make those practices possible when
feeding the children necessarily takes priority. National and international
policy documents call for improving health literacy in parents to reduce health
disparities. Progress in unlikely until we provide health insurance and
economic supports to parents of very young children.
Cheers for the
Affordable Care Act
Thanks to Obamacare, the rate of insured kids improved 30%
leaving 7% or 5.2 million uninsured, most in states that declined to expand
Cheers for Alaska
Applause for Alaska governor Bill Walker. He announced last
week that he will use executive authority to expand Medicaid. That means nearly
30,000 Alaskans will soon be able obtain insurance. The annual Kids Count Datebook ranks Alaska 31 among the
states for child health. The governor's action bodes well for a higher ranking
in coming years.
Cheers for Minnesota
They're Number 1 overall in the Kids Count ratings, 2nd in
health behind Iowa.
Oh Mississippi! Worst place for kids. Still.
Mississippi ranked 50th overall as it has every year since
the rankings were first published in 1990. The state was last in economic
well-being, health, and family & community. It ranked 48th in education
ahead of New Mexico and Nevada.
See your state rankings here.
In Florida, if someone scares you
to death you can legally shoot them to death with your BLEEP. But your
family doctor or
pediatrician or health worker cannot legally ask you if a BLEEP is kept in your
house or how
it is stored.
Apparently even thinking about the
risk of unsecured BLEEPs to their children’s and
right to keep BLEEPs anywhere and any way
they want. This BLEEP has been
since 2011. (The part that made asking about BLEEPs a felony with
jail time and a $5 Million fine did not pass).
Physicians groups challenged the
law. It was upheld as constitutional in Florida since BLEEP ownership and
is a private matter unrelated to medical care.
BLEEPs and tobacco are the only
products on the market that when used correctly kill people; BLEEPS kill lots
of people, often children, in a seconds.
So BLEEPS can’t be a private matter.
Safety Checklist for a Crawler:
BLEEPS are unrelated to medical
care until a child -or some one
else- or the owner- is injured by the patients’ BLEEPs. Then
taxpayers fund emergency response and
medical care for totally
preventable horrific injury or death, and related
increased insurance premiums, and lost contributions to
And we live in fear…. Oh, I see, if you live in fear - get a BLEEP.
Texas legislature entertained a similar gag rule this month.
Death in the United States:
A Call to Action From 8 Health Professional Organizations and the American Bar Association.
Ann Intern Med. 2015 Feb 24. doi:
10.7326/M15-0337. [Epub ahead of print]
Ferrris S. Children’s Defense Fund report on Childs’ BLEEP deaths, new BLEEP laws Data analysis: More
preschool kids dead from BLEEPfire than
police. May 19, 2014
Walters, E. Bill Would Prohibit
Doctors From Asking About BLEEPs. The Texas Tribune March 18, 2015
Pitts, L. Republican list of things you cannot say.
Seattle Times March 19, 2015
Social media and the NFL are enabling us to
reflect together on what level of aggression and violence in family
relationships is acceptable in our society. It's a fitting although
inadvertent role for the NFL, whose players are de facto role models for
American males, and whose recruiters, coaches and fans place high value on
aggression and violence on the field. (Here is Seattle, we love the defense in
Beast Mode - on the field.) The NFL's position on aggression at home is, well, evolving.
Thanks to the inventors and users of social media.
There seems to be consensus that child
abuse is unacceptable, and discipline is necessary. But the line between
discipline and abuse is defined by a complex and dynamic web of personal
beliefs, local culture, and state laws.
What is abuse?
It depends who you ask and where you are. State law
is largely focused on protecting parents' rights, and keeping the family free
of government or social interference. Social workers focus on protecting the
child from parental excess. The courts aim to balance parents' rights with
children's welfare. There's controversy regarding how much weight should be
given to potential effects on children's social and emotional wellbeing and
healthy development, on what is "normal" in the child's community, on
potential future harm, on how well the punishment fits the infraction, on a
pattern of parental behavior.
State laws are intentionally vague about what
constitutes abuse, so that cases can be decided on an individual basis.
The laws and their approaches to defining abuse vary widely. Interpretation on
the ground varies by agencies and individuals. This can result in a "I
know it when I see it" understanding of child abuse. Judging by the
Twitter traffic around Adrian Peterson, people who view the same video evidence
interpret it very differently.
How to decide?
Ultimately, parents must decide whether, when
and how to discipline their child. To me there are two important things to
bring to mind when discipline is in order. First, every young child wants to
be, tries to be like his or her parents. And every parental action teaches the
child some lesson, by default or by design.
A clear distinction for me is that disciple
is teaching by design.
It intends to teach the child appropriate behavior
and right action. Abuse is teaching by default, it aims to punish inappropriate
behavior. As a parent, the question to ask when provoked by a preschooler, or
any child, is what do I want to teach now?
Adrian Peterson said he wanted to teach his son
to be respectful and not curse at playmates. But his preschooler did not make
up those swear words. He learned them from someone he is trying to be like. And
hitting a person with a stick is about as disrespectful as one can get.
Peterson left a scar on his 4-year-old's head, which he said the child
could have avoided by not trying to get away. Would you try to get away
from a brawny footballer coming after you with a stick? I sure would. Would you
think he was abusing you or that he was teaching you appropriate social
Consider what that boy is going to say to
himself as he grows up looking in the mirror at his scar? "I want to
be respectful and polite like my dad". Probably not.
This from Beginnings Parents Guide
Part 1 Maternal health
literacy as skills
A life skill
is a collection of skills necessary for full participation in everyday life.
Maternal health literacy is a life skill that mothers use to manage personal
child health and healthcare.
It has been defined as the
cognitive & social skills
that determine a mother’s motivation and ability
to act on information in ways
that improve health (Renkert and Nutbeam, 2001).
Cognitive skills are used to
understand information; they include basic literacy skills,
numeracy (ability to use numbers). A mother might use these basic skills
learn about ear aches, and make an appointment to take her child to see a clinician.
So basic literacy skills are the essential foundation for health literacy.
Social skills are used to make
personal meaning from information, including speaking
and listening. The mother
whose child has an ear ache uses these skills when she discusses
clinician the information on ear aches to understand why her child has them and
how she might prevent them.
Reflective skills combine
cognitive and social skills to think critically, make choices,
and take action. The mother in our
example uses reflective skills when
she mulls over what the doctor said, what
she read, her experience of her child’s ear ache,
her actions and parenting
practices, and her discussion with her mother about treatment
possible preventive measures. Some literacy scholars say that reflective skills
are so essential to applying information in context that it should be
classified as a basic skill.
So we could say there are 4Rs: reading, ‘riting,
‘rithmatic, and reflection.
Health literacy means
empowerment (WHO 2013)
A health literate mother
combines all these skills to make health related choices and transform
choice into desired action and outcomes. That is the World Bank’s definition of
empowerment. Say the mother
chooses to stop putting her baby to bed with a bottle. She takes
that step, and
she enjoys her desired outcome, a happy ear-ache free baby. We say this mother
is empowered for health.
Her health literacy skills
enable her to minimize risk, maximize protective factors, and optimize
promotion. In this way, a mother’s health literacy forms the foundation for her
her child’s health throughout their lives.
Many factors, in addition to
skills, interact to determine a woman’s maternal health literacy.
More on that
beget skills. Cognitive and social skills needed to successfully manage
personal and child health and healthcare are those needed for success in
across cultures. They are skills that empower people to be what
they want to be, to make
choices and transform those choices into desired
actions and outcomes.
These life skills develop most easily
in early childhood given a stable
supportive family environment. Disparity in
brain development in children
growing in disadvantaged vs enriched environments
becomes apparent in
the first year.
Quality of family life matters more than the number of
income or education. But poverty and accumulated disadvantage
from doing their best to sustain the stimulating home
environments that support
optimal development, especially when they
themselves lack skills, resources and
role models. Early intervention ---
early childhood education, parenting
training, family support and home
visitation programs--- can produce positive
and lasting effects on children
in disadvantaged families.
Nobel Laureate and economics
professor James Heckman, makes the business
case for shifting public policy to
support programs that offer parents information,
choices and assistance. Promoting health literacy means
supplemental assistance that specifically and intentionally
enables parents to
develop and hone the range of life skills used to
participate in healthcare and
manage personal and family health at home.
Must read: Heckman, James J. (2013) Giving Kids a Fair Chance (A Strategy
That Works) MIT Press,
Cambridge, Mass. ISBN
In addition to Heckman’s monograph,
the book includes illuminating commentary
by 10 experts from multiple
The American Medical Association House
of Delegates declared obesity a disease
last month. Is this good for maternal
and child health? For public
In 1995 the National Heart Lung and
Blood Institute called obesity a “complex
multifactoral chronic disease”. Ten
years earlier, almost 30 years ago now,
NIH called prevention and treatment of
obesity a national medical priority.
With 90 million Americans now officially
obese, it seems few clinicians got the
prevention not a priority in maternity care
, I found that weighing is still the only procedure in
care that has shown any impact on outcomes. And yet it has
become uncommon for
a pregnant woman to be weighed at prenatal visits or
when being admitted to a
hospital for birth. Prenatal care providers have reported
they seldom weigh pregnant women or discuss weight for fear the conversation
interfere with their patient/provider relationship. Others said they do not know how
do it for them. One can
only hope that calling obesity a disease will change these
mothers, healthy babies. Fat mothers, fat babies
The issue in pregnancy is that a
mother with an excess of fat cells produces a baby
with an excess of fat cells. So we are building obesity
and the attendant health issues
into the next generation.
experiences - witnessing or experiencing interpersonal violence
related to obesity. A woman fearing abuse may hide in obesity, intentionally
making herself unattractive to protect herself. Is that a disease? With medical
many such women have lost weight, and gained it right back. That’s
how the lifelong
effects of ACEs were discovered.
Other mothers have said it doesn’t
matter if they gain too much in pregnancy since
they are just going to get
pregnant again; the weight can come off after that.
Only it rarelydoes.
people into patients
Google “obesity disease”. The first
thing that pops up is ad ad for weight loss surgery.
This may be more telling
than official statements.
Especially when we consider the Forbes
June 28 report that the AMA’s Council on Science
and Public Health, the group
appointed to address the question, advised against declaring
obesity a disease.
But the delegates chose ignore their own advisors.
We have to ask, what was so
Perhaps it is the implementation of
the Affordable Care Act that will bring healthcare
coverage to millions of
Americans previously excluded from the healthcare system.
At least a third of
them are obese. Now they can be patients.
According to CDC 35.7% of Americans
are obese, 49.5% of African Americans, 40% of
Mexican Americans. Rates vary
widely by state. Find your state rate at
in need of medical treatment.
Calling obesity a disease, again,
could draw attention to related health issues, but it
hasn’t in 20 years. It could result in better maternity
care, but the declaration is
unlikely to improve clinicians communication and
counseling skills. It could spark
Kennedy-style physical fitness craze, but that entails behavior change, and
communication issues. It
could increase research on obesity, but NIH already has a
Strategic Plan for
Obesity Research and funds nearly a billion
dollars worth of studies
annually. Grants.nih.gov lists 49 obesity-related
research solicitations currently open
for submission of grant
Only one thing seems certain, making
obesity a disease will increase medical treatments
and costs, and revenue to
2D, 3D or 4D. In-studio or at your
baby shower. Announce your pregnancy
with a “viewing party”. Get a video at the
mall. Post it on Facebook. Select the
premium package offered by a Miami
OB-GYN’s office and get a weekend discount.
American Institute of Ultrasound Medicine, American College of Obstetrician
and Gynecologists, American Academy of Family Physicians, March of Dimes,
Food and Drug Administration, England’s National Institute for Health and
Clinical Excellence, the UK’s
National Collaborating Centre for Women's and
Children's Health, and other
national and international experts all have published
against non-medical use of fetal ultrasound. The Society
of Obstetricians and Gynaecolgists of Canada
calls for a complete ban on non-
medical use of fetal ultrasound. The state of
Connecticut legislated a ban in 2009.
The FDA says that creating fetal
keepsake ultrasound images is “an unapproved
use of a medical device,” and
those who perform ultrasonography scans “without
a physician’s order may be in
violation of state or local laws or regulations.”
don’t need an excuse to be happy.”
Still internet ads for non-medical
ultrasounds abound, complete with slogans like
this, implying you don’t need a
medical reason for the “painless, relaxing procedure”.
The growing popularity
of “keepsake ultrasounds” is not due to cost or access issues.
companies pay for one or two doctor-ordered ultrasounds as part of
prenatal care, and commercial ultrasound is not cheap.
start at $175 for the 3D in-studio option. $500 for an “ultrasound party”
the location of your choice. The cheapest rate I saw was $75 for a basic
determination” scan; it’s discounted to $55 on Saturdays one OB-GYN’s office. These
services are not regulated or standardized.
sonographers say that ultrasound is safe. I found unclear statements like:
“All research provided has been proven to
be safe for expectant mothers and baby,
as long as the procedure is done by a
trained professional, and no longer that one
hour intervals.” First, we have to ask, research provided by
whom? and What about
the research that was not provided? Second, remember that no research ever proves
anything. It can only
offer statistical evidence. Then, a more accurate statement is
ultrasounds have not been proven harmful. Still the evidence has
convinced all the advisory and regulatory
agencies that entertainment ultrasounds
uses sound waves, not xrays. So radiation is not the issue. But the procedure
targets the fetus with heat and
pressure, especially prolonged, 4-D studies. New York
proposed a ban on ultrasonography for entertainment purposes, citing
showing that 4Dl ultrasound equipment can emit eight times more energy than the
machines commonly used in medical settings. The risk of effects on fetal development
demonstrated in both human and animal models, and remains, at least
so that the FDA
concludes exposing the fetus to ultrasound with no anticipation of medical
benefit is not justified.
concerns about non-medical ultrasonography include the possibility that
medical ultrasonography will fail to identify a problem with the baby,
the patient and her family; or that a false-positive result
could create unnecessary anxiety
and follow-up testing. Machines are
unregulated so may not be properly calibrated or
maintained. Technicians may
not be well-trained or proficient. “gender determination”
had never been an
accepted use of of ultrasound technology and raises thorny ethical issues.
are for doctors
Here’s the problem: In medical settings, the sonographer is commonly prohibited
explaining ultrasound results to the patient, who must then wait for days
or weeks to get the
results from the physician who ordered the scan. Family
members may be barred from attending
the ultrasound appointment to avoid
congestion in the radiology department. Parents may not
receive still pictures
or video to take home. If they do, they still cannot send it to a friend or
it online. Until these
disempowering practices change, parents and sonographers
to seek a more informative, convenient, family friendly experience.
Check Technician’s Credentials
sonographers are trained and certified. Find one, or check a technician’s
Pregnancy Guides says, “Ultrasound is
safe for you and Baby.” [p8] That
The 2014 edition will add this statement: Many healthy pregnancies do not need
ultrasounds may be harmful. The Registry of credentialed sonographers
Don't Order Fetal Ultrasound Videos As Souvenirs: FDA
infants show preference for others in distress
10 months of age, babies differentiate attackers from victims and neutral
They literally reach out to victims. Their second choice is a neutral
party. They avoid attackers.
scientific experiments by Japanese researchers, the players were shapes on a
like the early Pac-man games. The researchers suggest the
infants’ preference for the victim is the
foundation for sympathy.
negative impact as
experiencing it directly. This seems to be so even on an infant. The study
certainly confirms that babies observe and are shaped by what is happening
power of choosing
experiment further suggests a very early start for what David Emerald (The
Dynamic) describes as humans’ default way of looking at the world.
It’s a survival mechanism. In
order to keep us alive, our brains are pre-set to
keep us focused on problems and threats. Anything
unfamiliar or unexpected (including an aggressive square) is considered a threat, even as early as
months. Brain imaging shows that upon detecting a threat, real or imagined, the
brain floods the
body with chemicals to produce anxiety. It gives us just three
choices of how to react: fight, flee
or freeze. No thinking is involved.
Anxiety is the prime motivator,
and our default state.
writes that It takes intention and attention to notice when we are reacting
to anxiety, and to instead choose a purposeful response to the
source of the anxiety. A habit of
observing and choosing is the key. The process of choosing takes us out of
survival mode and
activates critical thinking.
together, these works make clear the importance of allowing very young children to make
choices. Even before they begin to
talk or to understand. Hold up two
shirts. Ask, red shirt or
green? Let Baby point. When out for a walk, ask Baby
which way he wants to go. He can point.
Maybe not the first time. But probably
sooner than you think.
choices and translating those choices into desired actions and outcomes” - that
definition of empowerment.
Kanakogi Y, Okumura Y, Inoue Y, Kitazaki M et al.
(2013) Rudimentary Sympathy in Preverbal Infants: Preference for Others
Distress.PLoSONE 8(6): e65292, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065292
Emerald, D. (2006). The power of TED: The Empowerment
Island, WA: Polaris Press.
World Bank. (2005). "What is
in this space I told Mandy’s Story,
and then we saw how the story reflects
are many lessons in this story.
young child’s healing power and reason to live reside in the mother.
need their mothers not only present, but interacting with them.
interaction with mother is absent, even for short periods under
circumstances like Mandy’s mom’s vacation, children and mothers
Although a surrogate mom like me in this story can ease the pain.
child can become stuck in a state of anxiety
the interaction is removed under unpleasant, unplanned, unexpected
circumstances, like a hospital stay, research shows development
with lifelong consequences for the child, especially negativity and
A hospitalized child is at risk of getting stuck in a state of anxiety.
interaction, more hospitalization
recent study found that children of responsive, interactive mothers were
as likely to be hospitalized. That means children who are hospitalized
twice as likely to have mothers like Mandy. That’s the bad news.
the good news: Role models needed
learned this lesson a little later from Mandy’s mother. Seeing what mothering
seeing ways to relate to her child, seeing how her child responds is all
Mandy’s mom needed to transform herself into a mother who actively
child’s health and development.
mom did what we all do; she mothered as she was mothered. In this
case, not at
all. The fact that Mandy was failing to thrive and her mom clearly
mothered her well was not evidence that the mother was incapable or
unfit, or uncaring or lazy. Rather the facts indicated lack of a role model.
who were not well mothered themselves need a role model to see what
possible, to develop confidence in themselves and find the courage to engage
mothering and caregiving. How can
you use your position, skills, knowledge,
and compassion to be that model for a
mother who wants to be what her child
needs but does not know how?
Last time in this space I told Mandy’s
about the depressed 8-month old
who transformed over the course of
one week of simple everyday interactions.
The story illustrates the scientific
work of Bowlby and Robertson on the stages
children move through when separated
from their mothers due to hospitalization.
Mandy was well beyond the first stage
in a child’s response to separation: Protest.
This stage is marked by wailing and sobbing in confusion,
fear, grief at being
She was also beyond Stage 2: Despair.
The child becomes more hopeless and
apathetic. She withdraws. Like Mandy. This
going quiet is not settling in.
It is giving up and shutting down.
Mandy was well into Stage 3:
Detachment (or Denial). She had suppressed all
emotion, including - maybe
especially, feelings for her mother. She hardly
noticed when her mother left.
She was so withdrawn that she sought no
mothering at all. Now, i would recognize that as a sign
of major psychological trauma.
There are many lessons in Mandy’s
story. More on that next time. s
history of attachment theory and the stages of separation, plus a good
bibliography, see Van Der Horst, FCP
& Van Der Veer, R. (2009). Separation and Divergence:
The untold story of
James Robertson’s and John Bowlby’s Theoretical Dispute on Mother-Child
Separation. Journal of the History of the
Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 45(3), 236–252. Published
Wiley Periodicals, Inc.