Infant Mortality in the United States
Trends in infant mortality are considered to be a
barometer of technology and an accurate indicator of the
health of a society. Despite technological excellence and numerous social programs offered throughout the country, the infant mortality rate (IMR) in the United States continues to be a national concern. For many, "infant mortality" brings to mind the deprivation and poverty found in third world
countries. Yet in the United States, nearly 40,000 children die every year for some of the same reasons that cause
infant death in underdeveloped parts of the world
Infant mortality is prevalent in this country
despite a richly developed and technologically advanced
society. According to the Census Bureau, the IMR in the United States has dropped almost 66 percent in the past three decades (Eberstadt, 1991). In 1960, out of every thousand babies born, 26 died within their first year of life. By 1991, that number had dropped to less than nine out of every thousand babies (Eberstadt et al., 1991). According to the US
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the US infant mortality rate in 1987 was higher than in 23 other countries or territories, including most of Western Europe, Hong
Kong, and Singapore. The US infant mortality rate was
about 20 percent higher than Norway's, nearly 50 percent
higher than in the Netherlands, and 200 percent higher
than Japan's (Eberstadt et al., 1991). The United States
has not always fared so poorly in this international ranking. In the early 1950's it ranked sixth best (Anderson et al., 1987).
The Select Committee on Hunger held a Congressional
hearing on infant mortality in the United States on April
29, 1987. Representative Mickey Leland (D., TX), the
committee's chairperson, acknowledged the continued statistical improvements over the prior two decades. But he was very critical of the decline of the United States in the international ranking, expressing dismay that a country as wealthy and powerful as the United States should have an infant mortality rate worse than that of 16 other industrialized nations
(Anderson et al., 1987). Through mediums such as this hearing and other forums, the federal government addresses this
concern and establishes programs that may aid the fight against infant mortality.
The decrease in the occurrence of infant death is, if considered on statistical merit, a valid picture of a society that is implementing advances in technology against killers of our babies. The gap between infant mortality rates in the United States and other countries points to what is principally a parental problem. Nicholas Eberstadt of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies writes that the dramatic increases in illegitimate births, drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, and the failure of parents to take advantage of prenatal care are the primary reasons for the higher than expected
rates of infant mortality in the United States. This social problem will not be eliminated by addressing it when a doctor is standing in a delivery room with a newborn baby who may already have a death sentence cradled in his arms. Instead, infant mortality must be addressed by educating and providing social programs that benefit the expectant mother.
In 1960, the ten leading causes of infant mortality in
the United States were (in order of occurrence): postnatal asphyxia, immaturity, birth defects, birth injuries, influenza/pneumonia, accidents, pneumonia/newborn, gastritis and other GI disorders, hemolytic disease, and immaturity
with other complications. Over the past three decades, advances in neonatal intensive care have changed the leading causes of infant mortality. In 1992, the ten leading causes were: birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), preterm/low...
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