The Dallas Morning News
Save Texas Children
Lawmakers must do more to address the increasing rates of child mortality
New research showing an alarming jump in mortality rates among our nation’s children should get the attention of our own Texas lawmakers.
As they haggle over issues involving fentanyl use, access to guns and child mental health care this legislative session, they should consider that preventable factors have contributed to the sharp spike in the number of deaths among teens and younger children.
Researchers who published an editorial this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “The New Crisis of Increasing All-cause Mortality in U.S. Children and Adolescents” said the increase is the biggest in at least 50 years.
“I have not seen this in my career,” Steven Woolf, lead author and director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a news release.
He and other researchers examined mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources from 1999 to 2020, and some preliminary data for 2021. They found that after years of declines in childhood mortality, due in large part to advances in medical treatment and public health measures, the trend sharply reversed beginning in 2019.
Four years ago, the all-cause mortality rate was about 25 deaths per 100,000 children. By 2021, that number had jumped 20% to 30 deaths per 100,000 children, according to a chart of the data analysis by researchers.
The data involves people ages 1 to 19. Babies were the only age group that didn’t experience a significant increase in mortality.
Unlike with adults, the sharp rise in the child mortality rate was not attributed to COVID-19, at least not directly. Increased deaths were related instead to injuries from events such as car accidents, homicides, suicides and poisonings, most often overdoses, according to researchers.
The rise in suicides and homicides were likely due in large part to “increased access to firearms and a deepening mental health crisis among children and adolescents,” the researchers wrote. Increased access to opioids has led to the spike in overdoses.
“Although the pandemic did not initiate these trends, it may have poured fuel on the fire,” they wrote.
Now it’s up to state lawmakers to put it out in Texas. As part of his 2024-25 budget proposal, Gov. Greg Abbott has recommended allocating more money for student mental health services as part of a school safety package and supporting behavioral health workforce initiatives.
But more must be done. In its 2021-22 Beyond ABC report, Children’s Health in Dallas advocated for improved health insurance coverage for all Texans, but especially children. According to the report, about 20% of all of the nation’s uninsured children lived in Texas as of four years ago.
That’s unacceptable. As lawmakers discuss everything from property tax relief to pet projects in their districts, they should keep in mind this simple point: Child mortality is rising because of adults’ decisions; so too, should be the solutions.