Q&A with NACCHO Board Member Sandra Elizabeth Ford, MD, MPH
Director of the DeKalb County Board of Health
A baby is born with a birth defect in the United States every 4.5 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Birth defects are defined as any structural changes present at birth that affect how the body looks, works, or both, and they can vary from mild to severe. While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are concrete steps pregnant mothers can take to increase the chances of giving birth to a healthy baby. In honor of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the CDC released a resource guide providing pregnant moms tips for preventing birth defects.
Around 17 percent of American children from age 2 to 19 are classed as “obese”. That’s a level that has remained fairly steady over the last decade. And it’s growing.
Obesity is measured in terms of Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measure that can be used to compare children in terms of their weight. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. For children and teens, BMI is so age- and gender-specific that it is referred to as BMI-for-age. BMI levels among children and teens need to be expressed relative to other children of the same age and gender. Every child is different and that makes it difficult to generalize on something like this.
Overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and gender. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and gender.
To give an illustration, a 10-year-old boy of average height (56 inches) who weighs 102 pounds would have a BMI of 22.9 kg/m2. He would be considered obese because this calculation puts him in the 95th percentile for BMI-for-age. His BMI is greater than the BMI of 95% of 10-year-old boys in his “reference population”.
I have worked with Save the Children in some capacity for the past five years whether seeing their work around the world, blogging on pro-Bono campaigns or partnering as a consultant. That’s why I can personally vouch for the amazing work they do for the most vulnerable children who have experienced psychological trauma from all-too-routine natural and man-made disasters. Many people think Save the Children solely provides aid during global catastrophes that happen in far away places, but they also provide substantial aid here in the United States. Save the Children was instrumental during hurricanes Katrina and Sandy as well as the tornadoes that continually tear through the mid-west. They also were there for both the Lousiana and eastern North Carolina floods last year. I am confident in their ability to focus on not only the physical but the mental well-being of the smallest among us.
In a climate where some national organizations are coming under increased scrutiny about their ability to adequately help families with simple supplies, supply lines, and logistics during stateside national disasters, Save the Children continues to be a rock for children and their families. I wasn’t asked to write this post, but feel strongly it’s necessary to urge as many people to donate to Save the Children during Harvey relief efforts. Thus far Save the Children has brought truckloads of infant and toddler supplies to four shelters in Austin while strengthening its work to support children in area shelters.
Officials anticipate that more than 30,000 Texas residents will need shelter including in three mega shelters located in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Save the Children has teams on the ground, and at the request of the City of Austin, is en route to the city’s four major shelters with essential items including portable cribs and sheets, strollers, baby wash basins, hygiene kits and lotion packs.
Save the Children is also opening child-friendly spaces in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
“Child-Friendly Spaces are a hallmark of Save the Children’s emergency response, and are essential in helping children cope and build resiliency during disasters,” said Jeanne-Aimee De Marrais, the organization’s senior director of U.S. emergencies. “We are working hard to make sure that children and families in Texas are getting the supplies and care they need.”
“We are evaluating the immediate needs of families who are being rescued in Houston, and those who are still stranded,” added De Marrais. “We know the longer-term needs will be in Houston and we’re determined to get child care and early education programs up and running as quickly as possible.”
Child pregnancy is a worldwide blight. Seven million girls in developing countries under the age of 18 become pregnant every year meaning that they have to grow up too soon, put an end to their education, look for adequate healthcare that they can afford, earn money somehow, possibly marry a much older suitor, and figure out a life for her and her child. 11 percent of all worldwide births are by girls between the ages of 15 – 19 according to the World Health Organization. These pregnancies cause far too many maternal and newborn deaths across the globe.
To bring awareness to the number of girls who become pregnant each year in lower-and-middle-income countries, Finnish fashion designer Paola Suhonen created a collection of six, brightly-hued maternity dresses with childhood motifs for 12-year-olds. If this sounds a bit sensational, you’re correct. Suhonen’s maternity collection is solely designed to show the world that too many young girls become pregnant each year because they often don’t have other life options but to become pregnant and are often not taught proper sexual and reproductive health education. It’s a sad state of affairs to be sure, but it happens every day. In fact, 5,500 girls under the age of 15 become pregnant daily.
Working in collaboration with Plan Finland as an issue raising endeavor, Suhonen traveled to Zambia with renown photographer Meeri Koutaniemi to recreate what would be a regular fashion shoot, but instead featured an expectant child mother, Fridah, as her primary model.
“I designed a collection that I wish is not needed and that I don’t want to sell,” said Suhonen. ” This campaign brings together two very important issues – children’s and women’s rights. I hope that people will wake up to the circumstances in which millions of girls live in developing countries.”
Plan Finland has created a thorough FAQ page to answer any questions about the ethics of this campaign. You can donate here.
I am always happy when World Breastfeeding Week rolls around each year. It gives me a chance to hear about the latest programs that are working around the world to increase breastfeeding rates. This year I learned about how World Vision is promoting breastfeeding in the Philippines through its 7-11 Core Intervention Framework which includes 7 interventions for women and 11 for children 0 – 24 months of age.
The way in which we discuss breastfeeding is different depending on the country and the context. While in the United States we talk a lot about infant feeding choices, in other countries, especially those that have thousands upon thousands of yearly infant deaths caused by diarrheal diseases, infections, and sub-optimal feeding, the context changes. In these cases, it is nearly always critical that mothers breastfeed their children up to two years of age.
In the Philippines, parents spend $240 million on breast milk substitutes and multinational formula feeding companies spend $100 million on marketing in the Philippines alone. Those numbers account for the fact that only 34% of infants under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. While providing the best start in life for infants, many mothers are convinced that formula is better and easier for their lifestyles. But, often times women in low-and-middle-income countries like the Philippines do not always have access to clean water for formula. Dirty water can cause deadly diarrheal diseases that kill infants.