Being Healthy Now Matters Later to Moms and Babies

Nov 2, 2012, 9:10 AM, Posted by

Pamela K. Xaverius, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Saint Louis University, and a former grantee with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections program. This post is part of a series in which RWJF scholars, fellows and alumni who are attending the American Public Health Association annual meeting reflect on the experience.

As a former New Connections grantee from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I was asked to blog about my experience with one of my posters at the 140th annual conference of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in San Francisco this week. The poster was entitled “Prevalence of Preconception Lifestyle Behaviors Between Women With and Without Diabetes.”

There has been a groundswell of activity across the U.S. around the idea that if women want to have healthy babies, they need to be healthy before they get pregnant (aka, preconception health). This idea fits well with the overall theme of the APHA conference this year: Prevention and Wellness Across the Lifespan.

My co-authors and I presented a poster on secondary analysis of data that looked at the relationship between lifestyle behaviors and diabetes status among women of reproductive age. The biggest takeaway that we wanted people to have from this poster was that 93 percent of women with diabetes are not intending a pregnancy, and 73.2 percent of them are not using any birth control method (40.5 percent) or using less effective birth control methods (32.7 percent). This is a recipe for significant public health concern, with the growing rates of diabetes coupled with the potentially deleterious consequences of unmanaged diabetes during pregnancy.

The poster was recently been accepted for publication in the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice (Xaverius, Salas, & Kiel, in press). This research was especially rewarding because I had the opportunity to work with outstanding co-authors to address a significant public health issue that has ultimately merited peer-reviewed publication, which is a marker of success for an academic. Moreover, evidence-based decision making in public health begins with surveillance, and this data underscores the importance of this issue to the entire U.S. population.

Indeed, it was secondary analysis of data regarding preconception health, in the context of immigrant status, initially funded by RWJF, that set me on this path of research success. In fact, it ultimately helped me move to my new home at Saint Louis University, School of Public Health—a Jesuit institution that fits perfectly with my broader interests in social justice and health equity.

Presenting this poster at APHA was rewarding. It was rewarding to share the results with presenters of posters around me. Their topics focused on parent-adolescent communication around HIV, sexting in high school, and more. Each poster covered a different facet of lifespan. An important thrust of my poster, in this context of lifespan, is that the health of a baby may be determined years before the mom gets pregnant. Being healthy now matters later!

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.