U.S. Infant Mortality Rate Rises for First Time Since 1958, CDC Report Finds
The infant mortality rate in the United States rose for the first time in more than 40 years between 2001 and 2002, according to a report released on Wednesday by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the Washington Times reports. According to the report, titled "Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2002," the U.S. infant mortality rate increased from 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to seven deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002, the most recent year for which data are available (Howard Price, Washington Times, 2/12). The data were collected from annual birth records and 96% of state death certificates from 2002, the New York Times reports (O'Connor, New York Times, 2/12). Although the United States "long" has had one of the highest infant mortality rates among developed countries, the rate has either declined or remained steady every year since 1958, according to the Washington Post. As a result, the 3% increase in the infant mortality rate between 2001 and 2002 surprised government scientists, the Post reports (Stein, Washington Post, 2/12). However, according to CDC, the increase may be a "one-time blip," as preliminary data for 2003 indicate that the infant mortality rate declined between 2002 and 2003 (Yee, AP/Chicago Tribune, 2/12).
When researchers analyzed the data in a follow-up analysis, they determined that the increased rate was due to a rise in the number of deaths during the first week of life among low-birthweight infants, infants born with birth defects and infants born to women who had complications during pregnancy (Stein, Washington Post, 2/12). "It's very clear that these appear to be all pregnancy-related, as opposed to later deaths caused by external causes, like sudden infant death syndrome," Joyce Martin, a statistician at NCHS, said (New York Times, 2/12). Experts say that the increase in deaths among infants in the first week of life may be a result of a combination of factors, including an increase in the number of births among older women, an increase in the number of women who use of fertility treatments and advancements in addressing pregnancy complications, according to the Post. Older women are at an increased risk of pregnancy complications and their infants are more likely to be born with birth defects or low birthweights (Washington Post, 2/12). In addition, a rise in use of fertility treatments led to a 400% increase between 1980 and 1998 in the number of multiple births in the United States, according to data released by CDC in December 2003 (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 2/12). Infants who are born as a result of a multiple-fetus pregnancy also are more likely to born preterm, with low birthweights and born to women who experience complications during pregnancy. However, Jun Zhang of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said that the "more important influence" on infant mortality is medical technology that allows doctors to determine problems in a fetus before birth and keep premature, sick infants alive after birth. Although these interventions increase the likelihood that an infant will survive delivery, the number of infants who die shortly after birth may increase as a result. "So it's a shift from fetal death to early neonatal death," Zhang said (Washington Post, 2/12).
The report also found that U.S. life expectancy in 2002 increased to a record high of 77.4 years (Los Angeles Times, 2/12). According to the report, based on data from more then 96% of state death certificates, life expectancy in 2002 increased for both men and women and for both whites and African Americans. In addition, the report found that age-adjusted mortality rates for the U.S. population decreased from 855 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2001 to 847 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2002. The only groups that did not experience a decrease in mortality rates were male and female American Indians and non-Hispanic white females, whose death rates were the same in 2001 and 2002 (CDC release, 2/11). The report found that mortality rates for most of the leading causes of death decreased in 2002 -- the mortality rate decreased by 3% for heart disease, by about 3% for stroke and by 1% for cancer (Los Angeles Times, 2/11). The preliminary age-adjusted mortality rate for HIV/AIDS, the fifth leading cause of death for residents ages 25 to 44, decreased 2% in 2002 (CDC release, 2/11). However, in 2002, the mortality rate increased by 5.8% for Alzheimer's disease, by 3.2% for influenza and pneumonia, by 2.9% for hypertension and by 2.6% for blood poisoning (Los Angeles Times, 2/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.