Guest Post by Brian Kennell, Tetra Pak president and CEO for the U.S. and Canada
From just-squeezed juices to artisan sandwiches to colorful bunches of fresh-picked vegetables, nutritious dietary offerings have never been so bountiful or convenient for affluent Americans. They can legitimately browse for gourmet-quality dinners inside local supermarkets as well as convenience stores or trendy “small box” neighborhood groceries.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for some 23.5 million largely underserved U.S. residents who live in “food deserts,” areas where grocery stores are absent, and food options frequently range from fast food to corner mini-marts, where chips, soda pop, candy, cakes and snack packs are more likely to line the shelves than fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and meat; whole-grain bread, pasta and cereal; or high-quality dairy and all-fruit juice drinks. Many food desert residents, without access to foodstuffs that allow them to eat three full, nutritious meals a day, regularly lack food security.
Food Deserts and Health
Unsurprisingly, because residents have access to and consume foods that tend to be high in sugar, fat and salt, food deserts are strongly correlated with higher rates of obesity and other nutrition-influenced chronic diseases, note academic studies such as “Distance to store, food prices, and obesity in urban food deserts” in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. First Lady Michelle Obama noted this four years ago when she made eradicating food deserts to stem food insecurity one of the goals of her “Let’s Move” Campaign. But the issue has proved just as intractable as it is complex.
From time to time I like to look back into history and share photos I find in the Library of Congress archives. I have done that previously with breastfeeding, newborn health, and tuberculosis. Today, I am sharing photographs I found of rural midwives in the south.
I have often focused on maternal health and mortality around the globe especially where the deaths rates are the largest, but there is much-needed sustained discussion about maternal mortality in the United States. I have detailed the problem in several previous posts here including:
Periodically I will share news and updates about what is happening in the maternal health space in the United States including the successes and failures to save more women’s lives as well as the key players who are making a difference.
The word is getting out that maternal and newborn mortality are an ever-increasing problem in the United States. As I have written before, the United States has the highest ratio of maternal mortality of any developed country in the world and yet we spend the most on health care globally.
While many (including scientists and health professionals) don’t know concretely why maternal mortality is continuing to rise in the US, the fact remains that the problem is not getting better. In fact, it is incrementally getting worse. In fact, according to recent findings from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation the United States has a maternal mortality rate of 18.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the U.S., up from 12.4 deaths per 100,000 births in 1990.
Companies such as Merck that launched Merck for Mothers and Texts4Baby, for example, are working on innovative ways to reach and inform mothers about how they can be as healthy as possible during and after childbirth. Additionally, grassroots organizations and birthing centers like Florida’s CommonSense Childbirth and Arizona’s The Birthing Project are working in communities to help mothers and their newborns stay alive.
Michelle Hartney has been an artist and activist for maternal health and obstetrics since the birth of her daughter and son: Shine and Seamus. While she says both of her deliveries were empowering, they were also very troubling prompting Hartney to create awareness through art about the high maternal mortality rate in the United States as well as obstetric abuse that she says is all too common for women across the country.
“I was shocked to discover that the way American women give birth now is rooted in a past that is riddled with misogyny, racism, and abuse. As I was reading as much as I could about the history of obstetrics in America, I was filling up my sketchbook with ideas and was flooded with visuals and topics that I wanted to make work about.”
For Hartney’s second delivery with her son, her doctor did not deliver her daughter, but she was instead assisted by a resident who wasn’t going into the field of obstetrics. She ended up fighting with the resident and a nurse about wanting to deliver her baby on her side; an option previously agreed upon by she and her doctor. Instead, they forcefully told her to “lie on her back” to deliver. Since Hartney had a doula who advocated for her during childbirth she was able to deliver on her side in four pushes, but the experience was difficult for her to handle.