Trends in Maternal and Infant Health in Poor Urban Neighborhoods: Good News from the 1990s, but Challenges Remain

Journal Article by Embry Howell, Kathryn L.S. Pettit, G. Thomas Kingsley
August 2005

Urban Institute   (NNIP Coordinator)

During the 1990s, numerous public policy changes occurred that may have affected the health of mothers and infants in low-income neighborhoods. This article examines trends in key maternal and child health indicators to determine whether disparities between high-poverty neighborhoods and other neighborhoods have declined. We compared trends in four key indicators--births to teenagers, late prenatal care, low birth-weight; and infant mortality--over the 1990s among high-poverty and other neighborhoods in Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Marion County, Indiana; and Oakland, California.  In all four metropolitan areas, trends in high-poverty neighborhoods were more favorable than in other neighborhoods. The most consistently positive trend was the reduction in the rate of teen births. The metropolitan areas with the most intensive programs to improve maternal and child health--Cuyahoga County and Oakland-saw the most consistent improvement across all indicators. Still, great disparities between high-poverty and other neighborhoods remain, and only Oakland shows promise of achieving some of the Healthy People 2010 maternal and child health goals in its high-poverty neighborhoods. While there has been a reduction in maternal and infant health disparities between high-poverty and other neighborhoods, much work remains to eliminate disparities and achieve the 2010 goals. Small area data are useful in isolating the neighborhoods that should be targeted. Experience from the 1990s suggests that a combination of several intensive interventions can be effective at reducing disparities.