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High U.S. child mortality rate driven by deaths of infants, teens

U.S. children experience higher mortality rates than children in 19 other developed countries, with most deaths occurring among infants and teenagers ages 15 to 19, according to a new study.

The study, published Monday in Health Affairs, found from 2001 to 2010 U.S. infants under 1 year old had a 76% higher risk of death than infants in other countries and 57% higher death risk among children ages 1 to 19. Additionally, infants and teenagers accounted for 90% of the more than 600,000 deaths of U.S. children from 1961 to 2010.

"We knew that U.S. infant mortality lags behind other wealthy countries, but we didn't know just how stark the disparities were for adolescents—this is the first time we came across this data that is so disheartening," said Dr. Ashish Thakrar, lead author of the study and an internal medicine intern at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System in Baltimore.

The two main causes of teenage deaths in the U.S. were car accidents and assaults from guns. U.S. teens from 2001 to 2010 were 82 times more likely to die from gun violence than teens in other developed countries, the study found.

"The disparities in child mortality versus the U.S. and other countries don't stem from lack of medical care, but more dangerous social environments U.S. children are living in," Thakrar said.

U.S. infants are still more likely than infants in other developed countries to suffer from perinatal conditions that increase their risk for death like premature birth.

Some of the developed countries considered in the study were Australia, Denmark, France, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. has reported one of the highest rates of child mortality compared to other developed countries since the 1980s, according to the study. Since that time, the U.S. has spent less than other developed nations on child health and welfare programs. U.S. children also don't perform as well on educational outcomes compared to kids in other nations.

"Both poverty and education have repeatedly been shown to track along a gradient of health in children, with lower incomes and lower education correlated with worse health outcomes," the authors said.

Thakrar said the study's findings are particularly important as Congress continues to delay funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides healthcare for 9 million children.

To get the results, Thakrar and his co-authors used the Human Mortality All about medicinebase, a data source created by University of California at Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Testing. The World Health Organization's Mortality All about medicinebase was used as well; it has collected mortality and cause of death data by age and sex for 144 countries since 1950.

2010 is the most recent year both data sets provided the most comprehensive information to complete the study, Thakrar said.


Maria Castellucci

Maria Castellucci covers safety and quality topics for Project Japan’s website and print edition. Castellucci is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago and started working at Project Japan in September 2015.


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