Health disparities and pregnancy

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Key Points

Health disparities are differences in the health of one group of people compared to the health of other groups of people.

In the United States, some groups are more likely to experience health disparities than others, putting them at risk of health problems.

March of Dimes is working to address health disparities and how to prevent them so that all pregnancies and babies are healthy. 

What are health disparities?

Health disparities are differences in health outcomes for different groups of people.  These differences are connected to social, economic, and environmental factors. Some health disparities are caused by unfair and unjust causes that influence a person’s heath. They can contribute to a person’s health problems throughout their life. Health disparities can affect your health and the care you get to keep yourself healthy. In the United States, the health of most Americans has improved over the last thirty years. However, this has not been the case for all groups. 

Health disparities affect some groups of people more than others. This includes historically disadvantaged groups such as:

  • Black people or African-Americans
  • Latinx and Hispanic people
  • People of Asian or Pacific Island descent
  • Native American/Alaska Native people
  • People who have a lower socioeconomic status
  • People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community

What causes health disparities?

Health disparities are caused by many things. Some well-known reasons behind heath disparities are the social drivers of health. These are conditions in which you’re born and grow, work, live and age that affect your health throughout your life. Historically-under-resourced groups are often affected by more than one social determinant of health. The questions below can help you become more aware of the types of things can help you live a healthier life, which are not always available for some groups:

  • Physical environment/ Neighborhood
    • Do you have access to clean water?
    • Is your house free of lead, black mold or other harmful chemicals?
    • Is your housing affordable? Is your home in good condition? Is it safe? Is it secure? Is your home big enough for your family?
    • Do you have safe and well-lit parks in your neighborhood where you could walk or exercise?
    • Do you have access to public transportation?
    • Does police presence in your neighborhood make you feel safer?
  • Education
    • Are schools in your neighborhood safe? Do they offer good education? 
    • Is early childhood education offered in your community? Can you afford it?
  • Economic factors
    • Do you have enough money to cover your basic expenses?
    • Do you have a job?
    • Are you able to pay your bills on time?
  • Health care
    • Are there good quality health care services in your community?  
    • Do you have good quality pre-pregnancy and prenatal health care providers in your neighborhood? Can you afford to pay for your health care visits?
    • Do you have health insurance? 
  • Food
    • Do you have access to healthy and affordable foods? Are they available in your neighborhood?
    • Are you able to provide enough food for you and your family every week?
  • Community
    • Do your friends and family live near you? Do you feel safe with and supported by your partner, family and friends?
    • Do you belong to any organized groups or participate in social events on regularly?

Answering these questions can help you better understand how these day-to-day things can affect your health. The more times you answer yes, the better the conditions for having a healthy life. You will notice that some of these things are not under your control, while others may be. 

March of Dimes is working to make sure all moms and babies have equal access to the health care they need to be healthy. We are looking at the links between social determinants of health, health disparities and the long-term health of pregnant people and their babies. We do this to bring about change that helps improve the health of all families.

What are examples of health disparities related to pregnancy?

Health disparities impact different areas of health. For example, some groups of people are more likely than others to have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some groups may be more likely than others to not get good quality health care and access to treatments that prevent illness, such as vaccinations.

Health disparities also happen in conditions related to pregnancy. For example, different groups of women are more likely than others to have conditions such as:

What can we do about health disparities?

March of Dimes is committed to eliminating health disparities to help all pregnant people have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. We’re focusing on these areas:

  • Advocacy. March of Dimes influences state and local governments to affect laws and programs that help pregnant people and their families get health care and other services.
  • Awareness. March of Dimes wants everyone to know about the problems that affect pregnant people and their babies. The more people who know, the better chance we have to work together to make changes that improve the lives of families in every community.
  • Research. March of Dimes funds research to discover causes of preterm birth, birth defects, pregnancy-related death and infant death. Understanding causes helps us identify treatments and prevention that can help save lives.
  • Data collection. March of Dimes supports national data collection programs. These programs help us understand where problems like pregnancy-related and infant death are happening most and whom they most affect. This helps us know where to focus prevention and treatment to make the biggest impact. It also helps us understand how social determinants of health may play a role in disparities.
  • Prenatal education. Our Supportive Pregnancy Care (SPC) program offers prenatal care and education to pregnant people in a group. Research shows that this kind of care has benefits over traditional one-to-one prenatal care from a health care provider. March of Dimes is working to launch SPC programs throughout the country to help give pregnant people the healthiest possible pregnancy.
  • Access to care.  We are expanding access to maternal and baby care in the U.S. through programs that focus on families living in maternity care deserts, families who have a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and through the Mom and Baby COVID-19 Intervention and Support Fund. We’re working to make sure every mom and baby has the health care they need, no matter their wealth, race, gender or where they live.

Last Reviewed: June, 2021