December 18, 2008

What's up TN?: Gone Too Soon

So, if you live in middle TN and you're anything like me, you usually don't pay much never mind to the front page of the Tennessean. Or the back pages. Hell, you'd go straight for the funny pages or the TV schedule.

But, I came across this interesting series of articles by accident (the paper was about to be thrown away) entitled "Gone Too Soon". It's a look at the freakishly high--like third world country high--infant mortality rate in TN. This was something I had no idea about but the article also hits you with the fact that TN is fighting for the "most unhealthy state" position and it also dips into the issues of poverty and, naturally, race. Like racism.

So let's look at these articles (I'm warning you, they are rather depressing). First though, you'll probably want to read the series for yourself so hopefully this link will take you to the special. Then you can click on "skip to articles" and off we go!

When you read the articles you'll see two factors mentioned a lot: poverty and stress. Poverty prevents women from eating the right foods they need to ensure their child's health. Poverty also effects working women: women with low-paying jobs are less likely to either have insurance or be able to take off time from work (or both of these). Poverty can lead to stress which can negatively effect the health of the child, could lead to miscarriages.

The series also mentions genetics, especially in the third article on black infant mortality. I'll tell you that the first story I read of this series was the third article on black babies dying at a higher rate than white babies. And yeah mid TN does have a high concentration of black people but why do these infants die at a higher rate? According to the article doctors aren't totally sure: it could be genes, it could be environment, it could be neither of these. Add to that they aren't totally sure why white infants in the state die at a high rate than some countries way less developed than the US.

I have to admit that the theories of the third article concerning black women are a little problematic for me, when it starts delving into the "stereotypes" of blacks. Such as controlling the factors of drug abuse, smoking, drinking, lack of anything beyond a high school education. I mean, it's a little weird when you read it then read the story of the woman who lost her child despite fitting into none of these categories. That's where it mentions genetics as a possible theory then goes on to health care and lack of education.

Ah, now there's my pet thing: lack of education and access to health care. For one thing, I have no doubt it's lack of education like, oh, sex ed that's leading to the rise of teen pregnancies in this state. Of course they know how to do the act but what about the resulting pregnancy? What foods should you eat or which should you stay away from? What do you do when you're going into labor? You won't hear these things talked about in a class room and you damn sure won't hear them talked about between the parent and child.

And don't get me started on access to health care--or rather, I guess I will have to get started, but really health care in TN just seems to be...fucked. Hard to get to. If your job isn't insured you may very well be screwed. Medicare, Medicaid, TennCare...all those programs are so dipped in scandal, I'm not calling them completely worthless but they just aren't effective for everyone. Sigh.

Sigh again. You have all these potential factors: the fact that our state isn't healthy overall, lack of education, lack of community support, poverty, genetics, racism...and honestly I think I'll agree that it's ALL of these things that are effecting the high infant mortality in this state. In fact to me the biggest factor probably is a combination of lack of education and poverty if I was pressed. But, since I'm all solution oriented, now that we've written the article, read it and presented the facts, WHAT do we do about it?

In the third article and beyond you'll see costs mentioned a lot. At this point I wonder what the hell does a child's life cost. When I read these articles, while there are some factors that you just can't help, there is no reason for the infant mortality in this state to be so high. We should be more focused on saving these babies, not arguing on what millions of dollars this will cost. Of course I'm thinking ideally because realistically...well this is the truth. And it just makes me really upset but I am glad this series was written, to give these women a voice and to broadcast their problem on the masses who probably have no idea.

It's hard to wrap up an ongoing problem without thinking of what to do...what to do. We surely can address all of these things, it's just a willingness to do so I think. Willingness and ability, obviously. Just because we SHOULD spend money on this doesn't mean we can, which is a little scary to me. To me this also reflects a bigger problem in our country, that is our increasingly unhealthy lifestyles leading to these health problems. I may save a little existential rambling on that for another time, but for now I'll just let these articles speak for themselves a bit.

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