NIHCM Newsletter / December 2019

The Danger of Rising Premature Births

The rate of preterm births in the U.S. has risen over the last four years to a rate of 10.02%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Though the Healthy People 2020 goal is to reduce the national preterm birth rate to 9.4%, only 18 states are currently at or below that target. Across the country, Oregon has the lowest preterm birth rate at 7.8% and Mississippi has the highest at 14.2%. You can see how your state compares through the state-by-state report cards recently released by March of Dimes. Nationally, racial disparities in preterm births have also worsened – the rate of preterm birth among black women is 49% higher than the rate among all other women.

Premature birth (defined as birth prior to 37 weeks gestation) is the primary driver of infant mortality in the U.S. It can also cause lifelong health problems including behavioral and neurological disorders or physical impairments like lung problems and intestinal disease.

The best way to prevent preterm birth is to ensure women of reproductive age have access to affordable health care and that they receive the appropriate prenatal care. To help women track their medical milestones throughout pregnancy, Premera launched their Best Beginnings app to provide personalized support.

Hover over the chart to view preterm birth rates for each state.

Teen Birth Rates At An All-Time Low

Aside from the concerns about premature births, the CDC's report revealed a positive trend: the national teen birth rate fell to an all-time low in 2018, down 58% from 2007. This trend was relatively consistent across the country, as the teen birth rate declined in 38 states between 2017 and 2018 and stayed about the same in the remaining 12 states. See how your state compares.

What explains the continued decline in teen births over the last decade? Pew Research Center links the trend to the economy as well as “less sex, use of more effective contraception and more information about pregnancy prevention.

How to Find Accessible Behavioral Health Treatment

As we note in our infographic on mental health, treatment gaps persist due to stigma and difficulty accessing treatment, in part because of workforce shortages. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched to help people across the country to find nearby treatment facilities for substance use disorders, addiction and mental illness. The tool contains information on thousands of state-licensed providers, general information about addiction and mental health, and guidance on selecting a treatment option.

Rising Rates of Suicide and Substance Use Among Teens

The teen suicide rate rose 87% between 2007 to 2017 and teen use of e-cigarettes and marijuana have also been rising, according to a recent report from Trust for America's Health. Not only are these trends troubling, there are also large disparities in the communities that are most disproportionately affected by these trends. Lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are nearly 4 times more likely to report considering or attempting suicide than their heterosexual peers. American Indian/Alaska native teens have the highest rates of suicide relative to any other race or ethnicity in the US, and also have higher rates of substance misuse.

The report offers recommendations for policy action, including expanding Medicaid services in schools and ensuring all schools offer mental health services. Parents can also play a role in preventing substance use among teens, as highlighted in an episode of the podcast Finding Fixes.

How We Can Prevent Avoidable Deaths in Rural America

People who live in rural areas die from the five leading causes of death at higher rates than people who live in urban areas, according to a report released last month by the CDC. Yet many of these deaths were preventable.

To improve rural health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $394 million across 28 states and Puerto Rico to improve critical community facilities including hospitals and emergency services. Similarly, Premera Blue Cross is investing $5.7 million in rural Alaska to expand health care training and workforce programs and to support capital investments like medical equipment. View our infographic on rural health to learn more about rural-urban disparities.

Food Is Medicine: The Evidence Behind Medically Tailored Meals

Eating a balanced diet can help all of us to improve our health, but for certain medical conditions, maintaining a strict diet is necessary to avoid medical emergencies. A new episode of the podcast Tradeoffs explores the history of and evidence behind medically tailored meals, highlighting how they can improve health and reduce costs for certain populations. The episode mentions a partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Community Servings through which members with congestive heart failure receive meals to help them recover following hospital discharge.

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