Improving nutritional security for pregnant people in Kansas

Nutrition has a significant impact on health outcomes for individuals who are pregnant and their infants. Research shows that during pregnancy, diets that lack key nutrients can cause anemia, pre-eclampsia, hemorrhage and maternal mortality.1 A lack of sufficient nutrition can also lead to stillbirth, low birthweight and developmental delays for children. Studies further show that inadequate nutrient intake is associated with infants born with brain defects, neuropsychiatric disorders (including schizophrenia, anxiety and depression), altered cognition, visual impairment and motor deficits.2

In 2022, one in 10 infants in Kansas was born to a mother receiving inadequate prenatal care.3 Pre-term birth rates increased to 10.5% from 2021 to 2022, and maternal mortality rates increased from 14.8 deaths per 100,000 live births to 20.9 between 2014 and 2021.4,5 With approximately 282,000 households categorized as “food insecure”, development of nutrition resources is essential to improving maternal and infant health outcomes.6

In January 2024, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Kansas launched a “Food as Medicine” pilot program with Attane Health to provide families with groceries and nutrition coaching. Case Managers identify members who are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy to participate in the program. The pilot is expected to serve an estimated 400-600 members per year.

Program participants will receive support for up to six months, starting with the last trimester through the first month post-partum, plus an option to extend for an additional two months through funds provided by the Health Forward Foundation. Participants will receive groceries as well as one-on-one support from a nutritional coach with coaching available in both English and Spanish. They will also receive educational resources, tips and recipes to maximize the program’s impact.

Nutrient-dense foods are selected by the member via the Attane Health platform and delivered directly to participants’ homes, whether they live in an urban, rural or frontier community. The platform includes over 900 food options with categories including gluten-free, non-GMO, halal, and kosher options so users can select items that align with their culture and health needs. The goal is to empower the participants and generate buy-in for long-term success. The coaching benefit includes three formal sessions and the ability to contact the coach via text. Coaches help with nutrition, stress management and any health challenges the patient may experience.

The goals of the program include improving access to food, enhancing member engagement, and capturing data to understand the program’s impact. The pilot program will measure birth outcomes, like birth weight and NICU admission rate, and additional health outcomes for the post-partum parent, like ER admission or high blood pressure. In addition to health outcomes and utilization data, the evaluation will also include the patients’ voice in the form of self-reported stress level and satisfaction with the program.

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Kansas recognizes the critical role of nutrition in supporting the health of moms and babies. Through this “Food as Medicine” pilot program, we aim to improve access to healthy food and drive more equitable maternal and infant health outcomes across the state.

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