Toronto Star

Infant mortality rate much higher in U.S. than other rich countries


American babies are 76 per cent more likely to die before they turn a year old than babies in other rich countries, and American children who survive infancy are 57 per cent more likely to die before adulthood, according to a sobering new study published in the journal Health Affairs.

Comparing the United States to 19 other wealthy democracie­s in the OECD, the study found that if the U.S. had simply kept pace with average childhood mortality rates in those countries, 600,000 young lives could have been saved since 1961. That amounts to roughly 20,000 dead children and teens each year.

In the 1960s, the U.S. had significan­tly lower child mortality rates than the other rich countries included in the study. But starting in the 1970s, that changed.

Among infants, that shift was driv- en primarily by changes in the premature birth rate (babies born before full gestationa­l age), which is the highest in the developed world. The U.S. rate of “extreme” prematurit­y — babies born before 25 weeks — is three times higher than the OECD average.

Among older children, the U.S. stands out in its rate of deaths by injury. In particular, American teens aged 15 to 19 are 82 times more likely than teens in other rich countries to die of a gun homicide. Among Black American adolescent­s, gun homicides are the leading cause of death.

The root cause of all these problems is well understood: “persistent­ly high poverty rates, poor educationa­l outcomes and a relatively weak social safety net have made the U.S. the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into,” the study, led by Ashish Thakrar, an internal medicine resident at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, concludes.

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