Mamas on Bedrest: Your Baby’s Address Growing Up Helps Determine His Life Expectancy

May 26th, 2015

I just read a fascinating article about where you live and life expectancy.

Scientists looked at poor urban areas of Detroit Michigan and found that residents there had accelerated aging as noted by shortening of the Telomeres of their DNA strands. Telomeres are the tips of DNA that protect the strands from injury, disease and premature death. They are similar to the plastic tips on shoelaces. People living in depressed urban areas of Detroit were noted to have shortened telomeres which predispose them to chronic disease and premature death. The new study found that low-income residents of Detroit, regardless of race, have significantly shorter telomeres than the national average.

“There are effects of living in high-poverty, racially segregated neighborhoods — the life experiences people have, the physical exposures, a whole range of things — that are just not good for your health,”

noted lead researcher Dr.Arline Geronimus, a visiting scholar at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study, as she spoke with the Huffington Post. The co-author is Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, a leading researcher who  helped to discover telomeres, an achievement that won her the Nobel Prize in physiology in 2009. 

But there is more interesting data to this article. Rates of accelerated aging were varied amongst ethnic groups and not in a predictable fashion. 

“White Detroit residents who were lower-middle-class had the longest telomeres in the study. But the shortest telomeres belonged to poor whites. Black residents had about the same telomere lengths regardless of whether they were poor or lower-middle-class. And poor Mexicans actually had longer telomeres than Mexicans with higher incomes.”

This is completely counter intuitive. One would think that higher income would confer longer telomeres and hence better health. But because this was not the case, the researchers looked at other possible answers. What they found is that health outcomes are not based solely on race, education or economic status as is often assumed. Other factors such as perceived discrimination and having a supportive community are also factors determining health outcomes. For example, Geraniums and her colleagues found that Mexican immigrants actually fare better than lower middle class Mexican Americans because despite their poverty, they live in fairly insulated communities where there is shared language, share tradition and shared culture. Although they may face discrimination outside the community, when they return home, they are once again validated so the discrimination is not as impactful. But for African Americans, lower middle class or poor, perceived discrimination is not offset by the community support. Job and income instability, family and social networks and segregation seem to account for the lack of differentiation between lower middle class and poor African American. And amongst whites, those of lower middle class status were most likely to separate out of these neighborhoods while poor whites were not able to move out of poverty and seemed to suffer greater stigma and shortest telomere length as a result.

So what does this mean for Mamas on Bedrest?

It means that where your child grows up and under what social circumstances will have a significant impact on his or her lifespan. In this country we are so used to quantifying things by race, educational status and economics. What this research shows is that the factors playing into our health are far more complex than we expected. Issues such as community engagement and interaction, discrimination and cultural norms have more influence on health and longevity than previously imagined. So while we may all agree that we want our children to be raised in nice homes in “good, safe neighborhoods”, we have to take other factors into consideration. The social determinants of health-issues such as racism, classism, discrimination, isolation, cultural norms and social support just to name a few- show that,

“So much of what makes people either well-being or not is not coming from within themselves, it’s coming from their circumstances. It makes me think much more about social justice and the bigger issues that go beyond individuals,” said Dr. Blackburn.

Not everyone who lives in a depressed area is able to move, and according to this study, it may not be in their best interest to do so. What this article says to me is that we have to include social and cultural norms in addition to race, education and economics when considering what is truly impacting someone’s health. We have to consider discrimination and its impact on health. We have to consider that for some groups, like Mexican immigrants in this case, the close knitted communities are actually protective of health, and rather than people working tirelessly to flee these depressed areas, perhaps it is in the best interest of the larger society to invest in these neighborhoods; fix the schools, stores and other structures and help the communities that are doing well to do even better because they have the support and services they need.

Every baby born in the United States should be able to grow up in a safe home, in a safe community in and be able to live to the age of “normal” life expectancy. We as a culture and society knowingly cannot allow poverty and depressed areas to persist, knowing that it is essentially causing chronic disease and premature death.  We have a moral obligation to at least try to help meet the needs of our fellow citizens to give them an equal shot at a long and full life. As Dr. Blackburn noted,

“When something’s really hard to assess, the easy thing is to dismiss it. They say it’s soft science, it’s not really hard-based science.”

Telomere data is providing a new way to quantitatively analyze some of these complex topics. Whether they have experienced severely negative experiences in childhood, and so on, their telomeres are substantiating their feelings and experiences. With this knowledge, we all have the moral obligation to make changes so that all children can reach their full life expectancy and their full individual potential.

What is your take on this ground-breaking research? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

References

The Huffington Post: Scientists Find Alarming Deterioration in the DNA of the Urban Poor

Arline T. Geronimus, Jay A. Pearson,Erin Linnenbringer, Amy J. Schulz, Angela G. Reyes, Elissa S. Epel, Jue Lin, and Elizabeth H. Blackburn, “Race-Ethnicity, Poverty, Urban Stressors, and Telomere Length in a Detroit Community-based Sample” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 1–26. © American Sociological Association 2015 DOI: 10.1177/0022146515582100 jhsb.sagepub.com

 

 

Mamas on Bedrest: The Myth of the Missing Black Father Debunked

May 19th, 2015

Greetings Mamas!!

Seldom do I revert to childish gloating, but occasionally I just have to go there. Such is the case as I am gleefully reading the report put out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention utilizing data from the National Center for Health Statistics which shows that Black fathers are just as engaged-if not more so-in the rearing and support of their children than fathers of other races. 

Excuse me while I take a moment to gloat.

Yeeeeeeeee haw!!!!!

Yaaaaaaaahoooooo!!!

“Ha! Told yaaaaaaa!!”

“Na na na na na, you were wrong!!!!!”

Now you may be wondering why I am so over the moon about this research? Well, there are several reasons.

1. I am sick to death of hearing how black men are no good, they “hit it and quit it” and don’t take responsibility for the children that they help create.

2. I am sick and tired of hearing that all the ills of the world are because of black men.

3. I am thoroughly done with the portrayal of black men-black people actually-as uncivilized and bringing down the status of US culture globally.

4. And I am beyond through with this nation feeling that it is okay to kill a black male simply because he is present in time and space!

Now you all may be wondering, “What in God’s name does any of this have to do with high risk pregnancy and bed rest??” Well, it has everything to do with it. As I have often reported, African American women and infants have the worst birth outcomes of any other race or ethnicity in the US, with 2-4 times the morbidity and mortality of women and infants of other races and ethnicities. An African American infant is more than twice as likely to die before its first birthday than infants of other races and ethnicities and this is due primarily to preterm birth!!!

Are you following me yet?

Let me continue. Ever since I can remember and at least for my adult professional life “the party line” regarding the black family has been,

“It’s the breakdown of the black family, and the absence of black fathers in particular, that is the cause of the high maternal and infant morbidity and mortality that exists amongst African Americans.”

As an African American, and now as a divorced single mama, I knew that isn’t at all the case but had no way of substantiating what I knew to be true. Now there is concrete data obtained by one of the most reputable scientific bodies in the United States that has shown what many of us African Americans already knew. Yes, many more African American children are born to  and/or raised by “single” mothers, but what this study has shown is that while the parents of a child may not be married, they may in fact be together (co-habitating) and even if they are not living together, African American fathers are intricately involved in the rearing of and support (and here I do mean financially) of their children, in many cases more than White or Latino fathers.

IMG_0200

My son and his dad reading at the library.

 

So again you may be asking, “What does this have to do with preterm labor and infant mortality?” Stay with me.

There is a lot going on in the United States as regards race and quite frankly none of it is good. We have all seen and heard the news reports of police shooting unarmed African American men, racial profiling of both African American men and women, disparities in discipline for African American School Children and so on and so on and so on. These are daily facts of life, daily stressors for African American women, and daily stressors for the infants they are carrying. Additionally, poverty for all families is reaching heights not seen since the great depression and other times in our history. The unemployment rate is still teetering on the high side and looms highest amongst African American men. More depressing is the fact that people of any race with higher educations are now just as likely as those with little to no education to endure a prolonged time of unemployment, and those numbers are again higher for African American men. This amounts to markedly elevated stress for African American men and African American women, their partners. Stress, as well as poverty, is not good for anyone, but particularly not good for pregnant African American women and the infants that they are carrying. We know that stress is an independent risk factor for preterm labor, prematurity and low birth weight all areas in which African Americans have the highest rates. So I think that it is safe to say that poverty, unemployment and racism are far strong predictors and stressors on maternal and infant morbidity and mortality in African Americans than “absentee dads”.

Now I know that many of you are going to come right back at me and say, “But what about black on black violence? What about the crime rates in predominantly black neighborhoods? And we know that many African American men abandon their family responsibilities.” Agreed. But the data from this study, which was broad and the study well constructed, shows that despite all these negative influences, African American men continue to be hands on fathers, and at greater rates than white or Latino fathers.

I wholeheartedly admit that there is much that needs to be done within my culture to heal it. But let’s not look astray too much to lay blame. Much of what we see in these urban, depressed areas is poverty; boarded up buildings, non-existent stores and services, poorer schools and no revenue coming into these areas. Add to that no jobs, no way for people in these areas to support themselves and their families, no money, leads to crime and yes, homicides. Is it okay? No. Is it an excuse? Of course not. But let’s consider the fact that if people in these areas had jobs, income and ways in which to support and sustain their families, then, according to data from the CDC again, crime rates would in fact go down and quality of life would go up.

But I myself have veered a bit off topic. The bottom line is this-even in depressed economic times, even in economically depressed communities, even when jobless, even with the threats to their lives black men are taking care of their children. Contrary to the sensationalized news reports and the stereotypic depictions on television and in movies, black men are taking care of their children-their families. The question now becomes, how can we as a culture, as a nation give them a hand so that this can continue? What are we as a nation, as a culture doing to reduce poverty, increase jobs, increase opportunities for education so that not just black men, but all men, can have the means to raise and support their children?

Finally, we have to ask the question, “Have we too narrowly defined “family”? We know from this work that there are men and women living together and raising their children but not married, or married and helping to raise their spouse’s children. Aren’t they still a family? What about blended families? Large extended families? This is all data that is yet to be analyzed-or even obtained. We know that African Americans being of the African diaspora are a “tribal” people. Migration and dispersion-both voluntary and involuntary-has also played a role in the depressed socioeconomic status of African Americans resulting in decreased community support for families. How are we as African Americans going to re-establish our communities and our families going forward?

There are many unanswered questions and I am sure that many more studies will come about, but what we do know is this: African American men are supporting their children and its time to toss out the stereotypes of them as “absentee fathers” and do what we can to support their efforts and the efforts of all men who want to be active parents to their children.

References:

Jo Jones, Ph.D., and William D. Mosher, Ph.D., “Father’s Involvement With Their Children: United States, 2006–2010″. National Health Statistics Report, Number 71, December 20, 2013

The Causes of Infant Mortality-The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

African-American Women and Their Babies at a Higher Risk for Pregnancy and Birth ComplicationsThe US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Black Unemployment Rate 2015: In Better Economy, African-Americans See Minimal GainsInternational Business Times.

Murry, V. M., Brown, P. A., Brody, G. H., Cutrona, C. E. and Simons, R. L. (2001), “Racial Discrimination as a Moderator of the Links Among Stress, Maternal Psychological Functioning, and Family Relationships.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 63: 915–926. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00915. x

The Absent Black Father Myth Debunked-by CDCThe Daily Kos

Mamas on Bedrest: ATX March For Babies 2015

May 11th, 2015

Good Morning Mamas!!

The Austin/Round Rock March of Dimes March for Babies was this past Saturday, March 9th. It was a wonderful event with over 6000 participants here in the Central Texas area. There were several corporate groups, hospital groups, families and yes, little ole me, representing Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond. It was fun to be out mingling with all the families and learning about what is being done by the March of Dimes to support families of Preterm infants. It was also really interesting to hear the stories and as you’ll see, meet beautiful little ones who fought tenaciously and made it! It is also very sobering to meet families who are walking in memory of their precious babies.

When I was leaving the event, they announced that this particular walk had raised about $280,000, but there  were still monies coming in so that number is sure to climb. How fantastic for Central Texas families! I also know that a few other Mamas on Bedrest were walking in their areas. Former Mama on Bedrest Parijat Deshpande was walking out in Silicon Valley California with her family as the Ambassador family for that particular walk. Charisse Mora Medina was (or will be) walking in Southern California. I also know that KeepEmCookin and Better Bedrest both support the March of Dimes March for Babies in Maryland.

I also want to take a moment to thank those of you who graciously donated to our March for Babies campaign. We raised $205 dollars for the Central Texas March for Babies and I am very grateful for your support on behalf of Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond.

And just to give you a little taste of what the walk was like, I collected the photos that I took into a short video montage. Enjoy!!