Wisconsin’s Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families: Application of the Maternal and Child Health Life Course Perspective Through a Regional Funding Initiative
National experts are calling for more integrated approaches such as the life course perspective to reduce health disparities and achieve greater health equity. The translation and application of the life course perspective is therefore of great interest to public health planners, policy makers and funders to promote community-wide improvements in maternal and child health. However, few organizations have applied the life course perspective in designing strategic funding initiatives. For over three decades, Wisconsin has observed persistent racial disparities in birth outcomes. This complex public health issue led to the development of the Lifecourse Initiative for Health Families, a regional multi-million dollar funding initiative created and supported by the Wisconsin Partnership Program of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (Created by the UW SMPH from an endowment following the conversion of Blue Cross Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, the Partnership Program makes investments in research, education, and public health and prevention initiatives that improve health and reduce health disparities in the state.). Over a 2-year period, the program funded four collaboratives to adopt a life course perspective and develop strategic plans for improving African American birth outcomes. The Twelve-point plan to close the black-white gap in birth outcomes provided the framework for the planning process. Despite the conceptual challenges, the life course perspective was embraced by the collaboratives, challenged community assumptions on the root causes of poor birth outcomes and provided a unifying funding construct for organizing and planning complementary individual-level interventions with social and physical environmental change strategies. These integrated and complimentary approaches provide a long-term opportunity to address the persistent racial birth outcome disparity in Wisconsin.