Friday, January 18, 2013

Marching for Healthy Kids

When comedian Eddie Cantor asked the American public to begin a March of Dimes by sending ten cents to help fight polio, the average American annual income was about $1,500, so a dime was worth a lot more money back then than it is now. But people responded and the dimes turned into dollars which turned into the research that has done so much to improve the health of children: creating two polio vaccines, helping discover DNA, developing a test to screen PKU, promoting newborn screening and so much, much more.

Cantor’s name meant to spoof the newsreel that ran in movie theatres, the March of Time, which was a major source of news for much of the country in the late 1930’s. That was before television and long before the Internet, smart phones, reality TV and social media. What would Cantor call it today? Tweet your Tens? Facebook your Fives? Marching with the Stars? 
So much has changed since Cantor coined the name of this organization, The March of Dimes. Seventy-five years later, when it comes to the health of children, much of the positive change has come from the dimes, nickels, quarters, dollars and tens of thousands of dollars that individuals, foundations and corporations have generously donated through the years.

But more challenges face us in protecting our children. Last night I had the honor of sharing my compassion for and commitment to the March of Dimes with an intimate group of leaders who also served this awesome organization by marching, writing checks, and permitting employees to participate in March of Dimes fundraisers.  The event was the kick-off of the March of Dimes’ 75th anniversary celebration.

As part of the 75th anniversary celebration the March of Dimes is launching a campaign designed to educate the public about the importance of the last weeks of pregnancy titled, “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait.”  While some women may need to have their babies early for medical reasons, too many births are being scheduled before full gestation for non-medical reasons.  If a woman and her baby are healthy, it's best to stay pregnant for at least 39 to 40 weeks.

But many women are unaware of the risks of scheduling an early delivery.  And when it comes to pregnancy, what mothers don’t know really could hurt them and their babies.  That’s one of the reasons why UnitedHealthcare launched its Healthy Pregnancy program (  to help connect expectant mothers, insured by UnitedHealthcare, with the care and education they need. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) classifies a baby as “full term” at 37 weeks, but advises against elective deliveries before 39 weeks.  A UnitedHealthcare study, which surveyed 650 insured, first-time mothers from varied geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, found that more than 90% of respondents thought that it was safe to deliver a baby before 39 weeks. 

But those last weeks of pregnancy count.  In the last few weeks, babies are still developing important body functions, and babies born before 39 weeks are at increased risk of complications like respiratory distress, jaundice, infection, low blood sugar, extra days in the hospital and even death.

When UnitedHealthcare reviewed its claims data, we discovered that 48% of newborns admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit were from scheduled admissions for delivery, many before 39 weeks of gestation.   While some scheduled deliveries were for medical reasons, doctors and hospitals were able to decrease their NICU admissions by 46% by reducing the number of elective deliveries before 39 weeks that were performed for non-medical reasons.

So, the research proves that the March of Dimes is right - healthy babies are worth the wait! Babies born before 39-40 weeks are at an increased risk.

Let’s work together to help our babies start out on the right foot! 

March of Dimes supporters celebrate 75 years of supporting healthy babies

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