Studies Demonstrate Positive Impact of MFHS Programs

Two MFHS programs were the subject of recent high profile studies demonstrating positive impacts on maternal and child health.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in December 2019 found that WIC participation is associated with lower preterm birth and infant mortality.  Specifically, the study found that babies born to WIC participants are 33% less likely to die the first year of life.

This study validates that WIC is an effective intervention to improve birth outcomes and ensure the healthy growth and development of children.

In response to the study, the National WIC Association noted that the infant mortality rate in the US is nearly twice as high as rates in other developed countries. It is imperative that we elevate and strengthen proven and effective interventions that help babies and young children thrive. WIC is the gold standard in that effort.  However, not every eligible family is connected to WIC services.  The authors of the study stated that “promoting WIC enrollment through public health campaigns and increasing federal funding for the program could raise the number of expectant mothers with low income or at risk for poor nutrition receiving the benefits throughout pregnancy.”

A study on the long-term positive impact of the Nurse-Family Partnership program made headlines in November 2019.  Pediatrics published an 18-year follow-up of moms and children in Nurse-Family Partnership’s Memphis trial. The follow-up study found that Nurse-Family Partnership significantly improved the cognitive functioning and academic performance of 18-year old children born to high-risk mothers with limited psychological resources to cope with poverty.  Babies born into the NFP during the Memphis trial are now teenagers, and the study showed that they had improved cognitive outcomes compared to youth in the control group.  Mothers, with an NFP Nurse, had improved economic self-sufficiency. At the 18-year follow-up, they have greater confidence in their ability to manage life challenges, were significantly more likely to be married and had spouses who were employed 14 months longer than those in the control group. These nurse home visits had a profound effect in laying the foundation for moms to build stronger families.

An additional Pediatrics study, over the same 18-year period, found that Nurse-Family Partnership saved government $17,310 per family in public benefit costs, resulting in a net savings of $4,732 in government costs in 2009 dollars.

In addition, Harvard University research on the impact of poverty and toxic stress during pregnancy took note of the positive impact of the Nurse-Family Partnership and other interventions that begin during pregnancy.

The stresses of poverty essentially handicap a baby for life literally before birth, according to a massive and growing body of research from over the past decade, causing the brain to react in ways that lead to riskier behavior — and to a higher likelihood of bad health, poor grades, lower earnings and prison time.  Jack Shonkoff, a Harvard University professor of pediatrics and director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, said, “People living in poverty are at much greater risk to experience toxic stress, because the causes of stress in their daily lives don’t go away easily — the stress of having a roof over your head, the stress of food, the stress of having bills to pay, the stress of not being able to get out of that hole,”

A burgeoning field of research shows that the imprint of poverty and its toxic stressors can actually be reversed — just by making some radical shifts in prenatal care for poor moms, through programs that provide consistent, empathic one-on-one coaching with the mother while she is pregnant, and continuing through early childhood.  “The right kinds of supports during pregnancy are ultimately the earliest intervention for … increasing the likelihood that that next generation will do better,” Shonkoff says.