According to the recently released United Nations World Population Prospects Report for 2006, the United States now has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the industrialized world. What this means is more babies die in the United States of America before reaching their first birthday than in almost any other developed country. According to the United Nations report, even Cuba has less children dying before the age of one than does the US.
A 2006 Report by Save the Children, The State of the World’s Mothers, says that although the US infant mortality rate has fallen since the 1960s, it is still 2.5 times higher than countries such as Iceland, Finland and Norway and 3 times higher than Japan. Japan has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world.
Both the United Nations and Save the Children lay part of the blame at the feet of a US healthcare system that is not accessible to all and an education system that is not educating every child correctly. Both of these things have an enormous impact on the health of a child.
When lower-income mothers in the US try to access healthcare both before and after they give birth, it is often not available to them due to cost. They have also usually received very little education about healthy nutrition, exercise, medical issues and child safety. Thus, at birth, their child is more at risk than with middle or upper-income mothers. US infant death rates are also highest in minority populations, especially among African-Americans. Babies born to an African-American family are twice as likely to die before the age of one than a baby who is born to a white family.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that 46% of infant deaths to non-Hispanic black women were because of pre-term related causes of death. As mentioned in the other reports, these types of deaths usually happen due to either limited access to healthcare and correct nutrition, or the lack of a proper education for the mother before the child is born.
The US is therefore second-to-last in industrialized countries when it comes to newborn deaths, tying with Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Malta, with 5 deaths for every 1,000 births. In comparison, Japan only has 1.8 deaths per 1,000 births. Japan also has the world’s lowest newborn mortality rate.
In order to prevent infant mortality rates this high in the United States, the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommends promoting access to prenatal and infant care. Healthy Start programs, an expansion of Medicare for pregnant women, and promoting a Childhood Immunization program are all ways this could be achieved.
DHHS also recommends promoting healthy choices with things such as a Folic Acid campaign for pregnant women to avoid serious birth defects, and a program to promote lower teenage pregnancy rates. Children born to teenager mothers often have lower birthrates and a higher mortality rate. A program to lower teen pregnancy rates could vastly improve these odds.
At almost 8 deaths per 1,000 children under the age of five, the United States is number 163 out of 195 countries on the United Nations World Population Prospects Report for 2006 for infant mortality. Iceland is at 195 with only 3.9 child deaths under the age of five. Japan is at 193, France at 184 and the United Kingdom at 174. The United States at 163, is firmly wedged between New Caledonia at 164 and Croatia at 162. Cuba, one of the world’s poorest countries, is at 168, five places higher than the US.
Sources: US Department of Health and Human Services, Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers Report, National Center for Health Statistics and Wikipedia, United Nations List of Countries by Mortality Rate.