Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Infant Mortality Myth

Coyote Blog deconstructs the myth that the United States has significantly worse infant mortality than other countries (especially those in Europe with socialized medicine):

I am sure you have seen various rankings where the US falls way behind other western nations in terms of infant mortality. This stat is jumped on by the left as justification for just how cold and heartless America is, and just how enlightened socialized medicine must be. However, no one seems to bother to check the statistic itself (certainly the media is too incompetent to do so, particularly when it fits their narrative). Statistics like this that are measured across nations are notoriously unreliable, as individual nations may have different definitions or methods for gathering the data.

And, in fact, this turns out to be the case with infant mortality, a fact I first reported here (related post on medical definitions driving national statistics here). This week, Mark Perry links to an article further illuminating the issue:

The main factors affecting early infant survival are birth weight and prematurity. The way that these factors are reported — and how such babies are treated statistically — tells a different story than what the numbers reveal. 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 less than 500 kg [sic; typo--read 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....

In the United States, all infants who show signs of life at birth (take a breath, move voluntarily, have a heartbeat) are considered alive.

If a child in Hong Kong or Japan is born alive but dies within the first 24 hours of birth, he or she is reported as a “miscarriage” and does not affect the country’s reported infant mortality rates....

Efforts to salvage these tiny babies reflect this classification. Since 2000, 42 of the world’s 52 surviving babies weighing less than 400g (0.9 lbs.) were born in the United States.

Hmm, so in the US we actually try to save low-birthweight babies rather than label them unsalvageable. Wow, we sure have a cold and heartless system here.

Ain't statistics wonderful? Especially if you actually understand them.


Anonymous said...

That story gave me the heebeejeebees.

Anonymous said...

I think that it depends of the mother's nutrition in the pregnancy time and if the require treatment is give to the baby after born if is alive.

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Hube said...

Thanks for this, Steve. However, the "America sucks" crowd won't be happy.

Hollywould said...

Do you have a link to where the facts are available about how other countries rank infant mortality?