Vitamin D Project Aims to Improve Birth Outcomes in Charleston and Columbia
Vitamin D testing, monitoring and supplements to be available to pregnant women at no cost
Charleston, S.C. - GrassrootsHealth, an international nonprofit public health promotion organization, will launch its Protect Our Children (POC) NOW! vitamin D demonstration project April 7 in the Charleston area at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), and will soon follow with a second phase in Columbia. POC will be available at no cost to a minimum of 500 pregnant women at 17 weeks or less gestation who live within these two service areas. The project will include patient and health care provider education, screening and vitamin D supplements.
"We're very excited to launch Protect Our Children NOW! in South Carolina," said Carole Baggerly, founder and director of GrassrootsHealth. "This is a wonderful opportunity to trumpet the importance of vitamin D to pregnant mothers and physicians. We aim to reduce the incidence of preterm births, as well as positively influence the health of pregnant moms and lower the prevalence of early childhood diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency."
Pregnant moms can participate from the comfort and convenience of their own homes by enrolling online starting April 7. Enrollment will include completion of a health questionnaire and informed consent form. Obstetricians are required to complete two continuing medical education courses provided by MUSC and POC at no cost in order for their patients to participate in the project.
Once enrolled, participants will visit their MUSC physician to complete a blood test. Upon reviewing the results of the test, participants will receive vitamin D supplements, compliments of Bio-Tech Pharmacal, as well as educational materials to guide their supplement intake. Further blood tests will measure vitamin D serum levels at 24 weeks and 36 weeks gestation.
Participants will get feedback on their vitamin D levels, as well as other health issues, via a new health portal, HYLIONTM, available at the POC web site. Additional features of HYLION will include a chat room for connecting with other pregnant moms, as well as ongoing education and interactive activities focused on vitamin D and health for each stage of the pregnancy. GrassrootsHealth will also organize informational sessions and support groups for pregnant women enrolled in the program.
"The South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative (SCBOI) encourages collaboration among providers, insurers, community organizations and other stakeholders to work toward stronger, healthier babies in our State," said BZ (Melanie) Giese, Director, SCBOI for the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. "Programs such as POC that focus on keeping moms healthy and giving babies the best start at life, may help SCBOI achieve its mission to reduce infant mortality and the number of low birth weight babies."
GrassrootsHealth has enlisted several project implementation partners including MUSC, First Choice by Select Health of South Carolina and Eau Claire Cooperative Health Centers (ECCHC). Select Health, the first Medicaid managed care organization in the nation to join the POC effort, will educate its First Choice health plan members and providers about the benefits of vitamin D.
"Select Health is pleased to lend support to this program because it's important not only for our First Choice plan members, but also for pregnant women and babies across our state," said Rebecca Engelman, market president at Select Health. "We have a long history of partnering to ensure the health of moms and newborns. We work closely with the March of Dimes Prematurity Awareness Initiative, as well as the SCBOI, and we're excited that Protect Our Children NOW! offers another approach in the fight to reduce preterm births."
MUSC's departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Pediatrics have partnered to support POC, and will refer qualifying patients into the program. Carol Wagner, M.D., professor in the department of Pediatrics at MUSC and lead researcher for this project at GrassrootsHealth, will help provide online continuing medical education modules to engage medical faculty and residents in the need for vitamin D screening and treatment. This educational approach hopes to achieve lasting changes in obstetric practice, patient education and patient behavior.
"Pregnant women with vitamin D deficiencies may be at greater risk for various problems and complications, both for themselves and their babies," said Wagner. "It's imperative for pregnant women and the medical community at large to recognize the importance of vitamin D in overall health."
South Carolina has struggled with one of the highest preterm birth rates in the nation for many years now. According to the March of Dimes, South Carolina's current preterm birth rate is 13.8 percent, as compared with the national average of 11.4. A randomized trial conducted by Wagner and Bruce Hollis, Ph.D., achieved a preterm birth rate of 6.5 percent with vitamin D serum levels greater than 38 nanograms/milliliter (ng/mL). Their findings were published in the January 2013 edition of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
"We're aiming to help pregnant women achieve a vitamin D level of at least 40 ng/mL, which is the same level regularly achieved by outdoor workers," said Wagner. "It is the level that optimizes the hormone vitamin D as reported by our randomized trial, and the level at which approximately 50 percent of preterm births were reduced based on a 2015 study by Bodnar, et al that appeared in the February issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology."
According to the Wagner and Hollis vitamin D studies in which ECCHC took part, vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy was shown to reduce preterm birth and be safe. Greatest improvements were seen among Hispanic and African-American populations.
"We've studied vitamin D's impact on preterm birth and we know it's highly effective. We're most excited about the opportunity to help integrate testing and supplementation into medical practice, making it a standard of care," said Eric M. Schlueter, M.D., chief medical officer at ECCHC. "I expect Protect Our Children NOW! to produce best practices that can be replicated nationwide."
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