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The Doctor Is In: Infant Mortality Comparisons a Statistical Miscarriage

Babies don't do better in countries with socialized medicine.

by
Dr. Linda Halderman

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August 3, 2008 - 12:00 am
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Q: If socialized medicine is so bad, why are infant mortality rates higher in the U.S. than in other developed nations with government or single-payer health care?

A: U.S. infant mortality rates (deaths of infants <1 year of age per 1,000 live births) are sometimes cited as evidence of the failings of the U.S. system of health care delivery. Universal health care, it’s argued, is why babies do better in countries with socialized medicine.

But in fact, 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 <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.

When Canada briefly registered an increased number of low weight babies previously omitted from statistical reporting, the infant mortality rose from 6.1 per 1,000 to 6.4 per thousand in just one year.

According to research done by Canada’s Bureau of Reproductive and Child Health, “Comparisons of infant mortality rates by place and time should be adjusted for the proportion of such live births, especially if the comparisons involve recent years.”

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.

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