Hidden answers

What’s behind the poor infant mortality rate in the U.S.?

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Much has been made in recent years about America’s poor maternal mortality rate, and even if the the statistics haven’t begun to improve, at least awareness of the problem is increasing. Going hand in hand with that crisis in the U.S. is a similar one: infant mortality rate. In 2014, 23,000 infants died during their first year of life. Experts have typically had trouble pinpointing why the infant mortality rate is what it is, and what factors contribute to it. New research, though, is providing some clues. Economists Alice Chen, Emily Oster, and Heidi Williams analyzed “microdata” from the U.S., Finland, Austria, Belgium, and Britain and found that the U.S. actually has an advantage over peer countries in keeping babies alive for the first month after birth, a period known as neonatal mortality. However, from one month through the first year, known as postneonatal mortality, the U.S. lags behind its peers in keeping newborns alive.

There are a number of competing explanations as to why. Some think the phenomenon is a simple matter of doctors in the U.S. keeping at-risk babies alive longer than doctors in other countries are able to. But the economists noticed another trend. Their data showed that postneonatal deaths in the U.S. are primarily due to three major factors: SIDS, sudden death, and accidents. And, they noticed, those three factors tend to disproportionately affect lower-income women and families. As a solution, they suggest that the healthcare industry place greater focus on month one through month 12 of a newborn’s life. Specifically, they suggest implementing home nursing programs where new moms are visited regularly by medical professionals. They believe this can help reduce deaths of newborns and also have a large, positive economic impact on the healthcare industry.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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