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Health expert says expanding postpartum Medicaid is ‘pointless’ without addressing state’s obesity problem

Photo from Getty Images

With the push to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage in Mississippi growing as we near the 2023 legislative session, one public health expert would like to see stipulations added to any legislation involving extending free healthcare to expecting mothers.

Getty Israel, founder and CEO of Sisters in Birth, a clinic dedicated to providing better care to pregnant women and mothers in Mississippi, believes extending postpartum Medicaid coverage would be useless without enforcing a specific standard.

Israel said during a recent appearance on MidDays with Gerard Gibert that the majority of pregnant women who walk into a clinic in Mississippi are experiencing obesity that predates the pregnancy. She deems it necessary for healthcare workers and lawmakers to address obesity as an epidemic that needs to be combatted before any other care is given.

“I know there is a big argument, a big push, and a controversial push to extend postpartum Medicaid. My argument is that it would be pointless to extend postpartum Medicaid if we’re not going to address these underlying issues the moment she comes through our doors,” Israel said. “Obesity needs to be treated as a disorder. It is the elephant in the room that neither the Republicans nor Democrats want to address. Doctors don’t address it. Hospitals don’t address it. No one addresses it. It’s a public health issue and it needs to be treated as one.”

Israel’s clinic serves to assist women with the clinical care aspect of pregnancy as well as the non-clinical portion in order to encourage soon-to-be mothers to be as healthy as possible. She believes it is necessary to encourage expecting mothers to do the basic things, such as exercising and eating healthy, in order to prevent obesity-related diseases from magnifying during pregnancy and after birth.

“Our goal is to help that patient achieve a healthy, evidence-based recommended weight gain — how much weight she should gain during the pregnancy,” Israel said. “Many O.B. (obstetrician-gynecologist) providers don’t engage women about their weight. They don’t talk to them about nutrition. They don’t encourage them to exercise, like walking 30 minutes a day.”

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 51 pregnancy-related deaths in the state between 2013 and 2016. Nearly half of these recorded deaths occurred during a six-week postpartum period and 14 percent took place during pregnancy. Israel notes that many of the health issues women face exist prior to pregnancy, and most have a direct connection to obesity.

“We have the highest rate of pre-pregnancy obesity and prenatal obesity. These two risk factors lead to bad postpartum outcomes. They lead to bad birth outcomes. They lead to maternal diseases like hypertensive disorders, preeclampsia, heart disease, and diabetes during the pregnancy, and can kill that person during the pregnancy or afterwards,” Israel added. “The risk factors are already there. The problem is, we’re not addressing those risk factors.”

According to the World Population Review, Mississippi has the highest rate of obesity in the U.S. at 40.8 percent.

The full interview with Getty Israel can be watched below.

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