Our Scholars’ stories: Worthington revolutionizes maternal health through innovative nutrition programs
Camille Worthington, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), is spearheading a groundbreaking initiative to transform maternal health through innovative nutritional interventions.
Her project, “Use of Home-Delivered Meals to Manage Cardiometabolic Health during Pregnancy among Predominantly Black, Low-Income Women in Alabama,” focuses on the critical juncture of pregnancy, diet, maternal well-being, and birth outcomes among Medicaid-eligible pregnant individuals.
At the heart of Worthington’s initiative lies a profound purpose—to resolve the disparities prevalent in healthy eating and appropriate pregnancy weight gain that contribute to unequal risk of poor pregnancy outcomes, such as high blood pressure, particularly among marginalized communities.
“The U.S. and Alabama have some of the highest rates of pregnancy complications, poor pregnancy outcomes, and mom and baby death related to pregnancy,” Worthington explains. “Good nutrition is an important part of a healthy pregnancy, but not everyone has the ability to afford or access a healthy diet.”
Worthington explains that neighborhoods with more Black/African American residents and more low-income households have more fast-food restaurants, less grocery stores, and fewer healthy food options. These circumstances contribute to poor outcomes during pregnancy.
A staggering 70% of pregnant women exceed recommended intakes of added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats. Additionally, more than half gain excess weight during pregnancy, risking their and their babies’ health.
Transforming outcomes through food delivery
“The purpose of my project is to see if providing pregnant moms who are Medicaid-eligible with ten free healthy meals delivered right to their homes each week during their pregnancy helps them eat healthier, gain the right amount of pregnancy weight, have less stress, and if it is a service that they like,” says Worthington.
She envisions a transformative impact on the community by providing access to healthy meals.
“Healthy meal delivery can support healthier pregnancies, which supports healthier babies, and ultimately healthier communities,” she says.
“Long-term, we hope to show that providing pregnant people with healthy meals improves pregnancy outcomes and saves insurance companies money by preventing moms and babies from having pregnancy complications and having to stay in the hospital.”
Worthington explains that pregnant individuals eligible for Medicaid are participants in the program. Health care providers, community organizations supporting expectant mothers, and insurance providers are stakeholders in broader implementation.
Moving towards change
“We want healthy meal delivery to become a covered health care service to support all moms’ ability to eat healthy and have a healthy pregnancy.”
Worthington passionately emphasizes the intrinsic link between a balanced diet, stress reduction, and improved health outcomes for both mother and baby, paving the way to address the prevailing disparities in maternal healthcare across the U.S.
“Overall, a better diet, healthier pregnancy weight gain, and lower stress can improve health outcomes for mom and baby and could help to overcome the unequal rates of pregnancy complications that we see in the U.S.,” she says.
Worthington’s visionary initiative serves as a beacon of hope, steering academia, health care providers, and policymakers toward a paradigm shift in maternal health, advocating for a future where access to nutritious meals becomes an inalienable right for every expectant mother.