Over the last 50 years, America has had the smallest decline in child death rates among wealthy countries, despite good health care and higher spending on children’s health needs.
High Child Death Rates
According to healthcare research between 1961 and 2010, the United States has higher child death rates than 19 other countries with similar economies, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Studies reveal that the U.S. has had the smallest decline in child death rates compared to other wealthy nations over the past 50 years, despite spending more on health care per child. All countries showed a reduction in death rates among children, but the U.S. showed the highest death rates and the slowest decline since the 1980s. Over the 50-year study, child deaths in the U.S. have exceeded 600,000.
In all of the countries studied, approximately 90 percent of child deaths occurred among infants and teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19. In U.S. studies, statistics showed that 76 percent more infants and 57 percent more teenagers were likely to die compared to other countries studied. Between 1961 and 2010, Sweden showed the lowest child mortality rate for children of all ages and among all countries studied.
The leading causes of infant deaths in the U.S. were sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and premature births. Compared to other countries, infants were twice as likely to die from SIDS and three times more likely to die from premature births. The leading causes of teenage deaths in the U.S. were motor vehicle collisions and gun violence. Compared to teenagers in the other countries, American teens were twice as likely to die from personal injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes and 82 times more likely to die from gun violence.
While studies showed no significant differences in infectious diseases or illnesses between the U.S. and other countries, perinatal mortality due to maternal conditions and use of firearms contributed to higher newborn and infant deaths in the U.S. Experts suggest that Americans can prevent many infant deaths caused by maternal conditions and gun violence by addressing social disparities, community environments, and safe living conditions for infants and small children.
Infant Mortality in America
Infant mortality is defined as the death of an infant before he/she reaches the age of one year. The infant mortality rate is determined by the number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births. Infant mortality rates are often used as a reflection of maternal and infant health and the overall health of a certain society. In 2015, the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, accounting for more than 23,000 infant deaths. The five leading causes were:
- Birth Defects – According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an infant is born with a birth defect every 4 ½ minutes in the United States. Birth defects include eye defects, cleft palates, club feet, spina bifida, heart defects, fetal alcohol syndrome, and many others.
- Preterm Births – When a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, this is considered a preterm birth. In 2016, preterm births and low-weight births affected about 1 out of every 10 infants born in the United States.
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – CDC statistics show there are at least 3,500 sleep-related infant deaths each year in the U.S. In 2015, there were 1,600 deaths caused by SIDS, 1,200 deaths due to unknown causes, and 900 deaths caused by accidental suffocation.
- Pregnancy Complications – Complications that arise during pregnancy can impact the mother’s health, the baby’s health, or both. The lack of proper prenatal care by a licensed physician or health care provider also contributes to pregnancy complications.
- Injuries – Infant deaths from injuries including strangulation, drowning, poisoning, burns, falls, and choking contribute significantly to infant mortality rates in the U.S. In many cases, lack of parental supervision is the leading cause of injuries and fatalities.
The CDC is committed to improving birth outcomes and preventing infant deaths for all American families. Public health agencies around the country work closely with hospitals and health care providers, community officials, and social organizations to reduce infant mortality rates in the United States.
While the United States spends more per child on health care than many other countries, it has poorer outcomes than many. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, the U.S. ranks 25th among 29 developed countries for overall child health and safety. Health agencies urge U.S. politicians to fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health insurance to millions of disadvantaged children, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food stamps.