A public health study has found that children in the US have shockingly high death rates compared with those growing up in other developed nations.
According to publicly available demographics, babies born in America between 2001 and 2010 had a 76 percent greater likelihood of dying before their first birthday than their counterparts in 19 other wealthy, democratic countries including the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, and Canada. During the same period, children aged one to 19 years had a 57 percent increased risk of death.
The analysis, published in Health Affairs, examined mortality among children aged from birth to 19 years using data collected as part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The 20 countries participating in the OECD had similar rates of pre-adult deaths when the project began in 1961, and the overall trend continues to be improved survivorship. However, by the 1980s, American child mortality began to lag significantly behind the more dramatic decreases seen in the 19 other nations. Since the 1990s, America has consistently ranked at the bottom.
The authors, led by internal medicine resident Ashish Thakrar at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, attribute the divergence to a rise in childhood poverty rates that also occurred in the 1980s and to America’s convoluted health care system.
“Persistently high poverty rates, poor educational outcomes, and a relatively weak social safety net have made the US the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into,” the paper concludes.
The National Center for Children in Poverty reports that 21 percent of all US children currently live in households whose total income falls below the federal poverty threshold.
Another contributor to the unusually steep infant mortality rate is the frequency of premature delivery among American mothers. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that America actually has similar rates of survivorship for babies born very pre-term (24 to 31 weeks). However, babies born at 32-36 weeks and 37 or more weeks gestational age had the second highest and highest rates, respectively, of mortality compared to 11 other countries. These numbers matter because American women were the most likely to give birth prematurely.
When delving deeper into statistics on the deaths of teens, Thakrar and his colleagues uncovered more sobering news: Americans aged 15 to 19 are 82 times more likely to die from gun violence, and black teens are particularly at risk.
The release of this study comes at a particularly troubled time in US health care, after attempts to repeal and replace the Obama administration’s affordable care act failed. Consequently, the future of a widely used fund that provides coverage to 9 million low to middle-income children – the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – remains uncertain.
And even when coverage assistance programs like CHIP are up and running, the US spends less of its GDP on health and child welfare than other nations, according to the study.
“The care of children is a basic moral responsibility of our society,” the authors wrote. “All US policymakers, pediatric health professionals, child health advocates, and families should be troubled by these findings.”
[H/T: The Washington Post]