Infant Mortality Drops; Injuries Cause Most Child Deaths

March 24, 1999 3 min read
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Infant Mortality Drops;
Injuries Cause Most Child Deaths:
Great improvements have been made in reducing the number of children who die each year, but there are some exceptions, notes a new report from the Child Welfare League of America.

The nation’s infant-mortality rate has seen a steady decline: From 1950 to1997, the rate dropped from 29.2 deaths per 1,000 live births to 7.1, the Washington-based CWLA says. And, the report notes, accidental injuries--motor-vehicle crashes, fires, and drowning, among others--have replaced infectious disease as the leading overall cause of death among children 14 and under.

About 8,000 U.S. children in that age group die each year because of injuries; that figure includes suicides and homicides, both of which have increased significantly since the 1950s. The report says more children under age 4 die from abuse and neglect than from falls, choking on food, suffocation, drowning, house fires, and auto accidents combined.

Among all Americans, adolescents are the healthiest and have the lowest overall premature-death rate, according to the CWLA. The leading cause of death for adolescents is accidental injury and intentional violence.

“Mortality Trends Among U.S. Children and Youth” is available at (800) 407-6273.

The release of the CWLA report coincides with a recent Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report that highlights the decrease in infant mortality and sudden infant death syndrome among Northwest American Indians and Alaskan natives. The March 12 edition of the MMWR, published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is available by calling (800) 311-3435.

The report analyzes annual vital statistics from 1985 to 1996 from the state health departments of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and from the CDC in Atlanta. During that period, infant-mortality rates for both groups decreased from 20 per 1,000 live births to 7.7. In that same period, SIDS deaths in both groups declined from 8.9 per 1,000 to 3.0. The number of infants who die of SIDS has been dropping nationally, partly because of the Back to Sleep campaign that encourages parents to put infants to sleep on their backs, the report says.

Among the American Indians and Alaskan natives studied, the drop in infant-mortality rates is attributed to such factors as the creation of parental-education programs and improved access to tertiary care for very-low-weight newborns.

Health Insurance: Four Pennsylvania school groups have joined with the Heinz Family Philanthropies to form a health-insurance trust.

The Pennsylvania Public School Health Care Trust aims to maintain high-quality health-care benefits for state public school employees, the organizations say. The Pittsburgh-based philanthropy has pledged to provide $1.2 million over three years in start-up expenses for the initiative.

For the past several months, the groups--the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, and the Pennsylvania State Education Association--have been exploring the possibility of creating a statewide insurance package to provide medical coverage for school employees at reasonable prices.

More than 250,000 workers and their dependents could benefit, said Jeffrey Lewis, the executive director of the Heinz Family Philanthropies.

Inherited Bullying: A report published last month in the journal Child Development suggests that bullying behavior may be genetically influenced.

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in London and the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden studied more than 1,500 pairs of twins. About a third of the pairs were identical. Parents were asked to complete a checklist to measure a range of behaviors in children and adolescents.

The researchers found that such aggressive antisocial behavior as bullying or fighting is highly inheritable, particularly for women. But environmental factors play a significant role, especially for men, in the development of nonaggressive antisocial behaviors such as theft or truancy.

--Adrienne D. Coles

A version of this article appeared in the March 24, 1999 edition of Education Week as Infant Mortality Drops; Injuries Cause Most Child Deaths

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