Can a Higher Infant Mortality Rate Be A Good Thing?

Can a Higher Infant Mortality Rate Be A Good Thing? August 22, 2008

You wouldn’t think so. The death of a newborn child is a tragedy, and the fact that the United States has a higher infant mortality rate than other developed countries is often cited as a serious failing of America’s health care system. But according to Dr. Linda Halderman, the higher U.S. rate is due at least in part to the fact that we try to save the lives of more infants than do other countries:

Low birth weight infants are not counted against the “live birth” statistics for many countries reporting low infant mortality rates.

According to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a premature baby weighing <500g is not considered a living child.

But in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live births. The mortality rate of such babies — considered “unsalvageable” outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive — is extraordinarily high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews U.S. infant mortality statistics.

Norway boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. But when the main determinant of mortality — weight at birth — is factored in, Norway has no better survival rates than the United States.

More. The article also notes other differences in the way infant mortality is calculated by different countries that skew their infant mortality rate. Many countries, for example, won’t count a child as a live birth if he dies within 24 hours of being born. Since 40% of all infant mortality occurs within the first 24 hours after birth, this fact makes the infant mortality rate of those countries appear a lot better than it actually is.

(HT: Coyote Blog)

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