While Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s initiative to combat infant mortality, B’More For Healthy Babies, was created to end causes of early death such as low birth weight, the program’s newest phase is focusing on women who could stand to shed a few pounds.
In fall 2010, a pilot obesity reduction program was run in the Patterson Park North and East, Upton/Druid Heights, and Greenmount East communities. The B’More Fit for Healthy Babies program, an offshoot of the original initiative, created Weight Watchers support groups for women of child-bearing age to learn how to take care of themselves and their families in a way that fits into their lifestyle.
“Weight Watchers has been sort of a proven weight management approach,” Director of Healthy Community Initiatives for the Family League of Baltimore City Gena O’Keefe said. “It really is a lifestyle change and not a diet, so it’s been shown to work in Baltimore City.”
The typical Weight Watchers client is an upper-middle class women living in the suburbs, but more than 40 percent of women in Baltimore are obese, Administrator for Maternal and Infant Care Program for the Baltimore City Health Department Stacey Tuck said. Obese women have more problems during pregnancy and delivery than those at healthy weights, which makes them ideal candidates for the second phase of B’More For Healthy Babies, “healthy pregnancy.”
“Weight watchers was chosen because we know that it’s an affective, safe, healthy way to lose weight,” tuck said. “It’s not a fad, it’s not starvation, it’s not based on limiting your diet in some crazy way. It’s really a healthier approach to eating.”
Using $10,000 in federal stimulus money, 93 women in those high-risk neighborhoods were given free Weight Watchers meetings and passes to the YMCA for nine weeks. About 43 of the women chose to continue with the program on their own dime after subsidy funding ran out.
“Once women got into these programs, they really wanted to continue to participate, partly because of the supportive group nature of it,” O’Keefe said. “You have a leader of the group who’s from the community, who can help you figure out how to make healthy choices and how to make it fun.”
Government funding continues to be a struggle for those running the program, which is submitting an implementation grant this June requesting $400,000 a year to help continue the program for the next five years.
“What we’ve done is wrote to the Office of Women’s Health for a planning grant to a write strategic plan taking our pilot and making it more of a demonstration project for the city,” Assistant Commissioner of Maternal and Infant Care for BCHD Rebecca Dineen said. “We used the pilot to leverage our ability to win the grant, which will go to reintroducing this in a big scale in the future.”
But the instability of government funding from year to year can’t take all the blame for closed Weight Watchers groups.
“I think because it took a while to get started, some people got frustrated,” O’Keefe said. “It was much less about Weight Watchers. Some people had the perception that Weight Watchers costs too much, but we’re figuring out a way to make it more affordable.”
B’MORE FOR HEALTHY BABIES’ FIRST YEAR
In its first year, B’More for Healthy Babies focused on reducing unsafe sleep practices in Druid Heights. Difficulty getting information to those most affected, lack of funds for continuing programs to help end unhealthy practices before they begin, and the unwillingness of Baltimore citizens to address the issue of infant mortality have kept officials from fully determining if the initiative is making progress. >>Read More
DOES INFANT MORTALITY MATTER TO BALTIMORE?
Members of health agencies, such as the Family League of Baltimore, have been campaigning for safe sleep practices and visiting homes for almost a year as part of B’More for Healthy Babies. That’s not the culture of raising babies in Baltimore, one Druid Heights resident said. >>Read More
More than 40 percent of women in Baltimore are obese, Administrator for Maternal and Infant Care Program for the Baltimore City Health Department Stacey Tuck said. Obese women have more problems during pregnancy and delivery than those at healthy weights. In fall 2010, a pilot obesity reduction program was run in the Patterson Park North and East, Upton/Druid Heights, and Greenmount East communities. The B’More Fit for Healthy Babies program, an offshoot of the original initiative, created Weight Watchers support groups for women of child-bearing age to learn how to take care of themselves and their families in a way that fits into their lifestyle. >>Read More
KEEPING THE COMMUNITY INFORMED
B’More for Healthy Babies, the People’s Community Health Center, and Baltimore’s Healthy Start sponsored a town hall meeting to discuss the data accumulated by those focus groups
and how the community can access what they vocalized was needed to curb infant mortality rates. The meeting was cancelled after waiting an hour and a half with no one showing up to attend.
Director of the Mayor’s Office of Policy and Communications Ryan O’Doherty and Press secretary for the Office of the Mayor Ian Brennan discuss the importance of the B’More For Healthy Babies campaign and the effectiveness of the initiative’s first phase.
Infant mortality statistics for Baltimore City have remained stagnant for the past decade.
Maryland has 7.3 deaths per 1000 live births, ranking 19th worst in infant mortality rates in the United States.