American babies less likely to make it to their first birthdays than in other wealthy OECD countries

A new study on the infant mortality (number of babies dying within their first year of life for every 1,000 live births) in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries has revealed some interesting and disturbing statistics. It has shown that babies born in America are less likely to survive their first year of life compared to other wealthy OECD countries.

The report shows that the number of babies that survive the initial one year has risen significantly worldwide since 1960s due to the advent of maternal antenatal care and also due to advanced neonatal care that is provided. But the United States has not been keeping pace with the other wealthy countries finds this study published in the latest issue of the journal Health Affairs. The countries included in the comparison with the US were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Results from the study reveal that among the 19 similar OECD countries, American babies were three times more at risk of dying from being extremely prematurely born (born before 25 weeks of pregnancy). They are also 2.3 times more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. This survey looked at babies born and died between 2001 and 2010. Over the last five decades, there should have been 300,000 fewer infant deaths in the US to make it at par with the other countries that have a similar socioeconomic standing worldwide, says the report. Children aged 1 to 19 in the United States are also 82 times more likely to die of gun violence than any of the developed OECD countries says the report.

Lead author Ashish Thakrar, medical resident at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System explained that the reason America is not keeping pace with the others is the increasing rates of poverty compared to other countries and also a weaker social safety net. Nearly a third of all American children are living in poverty. According to a 2013 United Nations Children’s Fund report too poverty has been associated with increasing rates of delivering prematurely and having low birth weight babies. Among 35 developing nations, United States ranks second highest (at 20 percent) in the number of premature babies and low birth weight babies. Both of these conditions are linked to poorer health outcomes and higher risk of dying within the first year of life.

Thakrar and colleagues noted that there were more poor American children than in any of the other 19 comparable countries. He explained that the poorer the children are, the worse is the outcome from their health. They took in the data from last 50 years from these 19 countries for comparison. Their finding is a corroboration of a 2013 National Academy of Medicine report that also stated that American health is failing to keep pace with other developing nations. Thakrar says this is more because of “risky health behavior and a fragmented health system”. Preventive care is lacking he said and taking care of the sick kids is a bigger focus in the US compared to preventing illnesses. More money needs to go to public welfare programs he added. This would keep the children safe from both ailments and injuries.

Source: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0767

Dr. Ananya Mandal

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Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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