As the world's biggest national economy and the seventh wealthiest country in the world, you'd expect the United States' youngest and most vulnerable citizens to be well cared for. However, American kids are dying at shocking rates when compared to other wealthy countries, according to new research published in Health Affairs, with kids in the United States facing a 70 percent higher risk of dying before reaching adulthood than children in other wealthy countries, according to Vox.
The study, published earlier this week, evaluated health trends in 20 wealthy countries over the last 50 years, and the results were slightly bleaker for the United States compared to other, similar nations. While all countries have better outcomes for kids than they did five decades ago, not all countries have advanced equally. In fact, when it came to child mortality rates, the researchers found that the United States had the worst outcomes. And this isn't a new trend: kids in the United States have faced worse mortality rates than children in other developed nations since the 1980s.
While that all sounds pretty bad, it gets worse: in the 50 years that the researchers tracked, the United States' performance means over 600,000 deaths have occurred that would have likely been avoided in similar countries. That's 12,000 extra deaths a year.
"This study should alarm everyone," Dr. Ashish Thakrar, lead author of the study, told CNN recently. "The US is the most dangerous of wealthy, democratic countries in the world for children."
The kids with the highest risk of increased mortality were infants and 15- to 19-year-olds: between 2001 and 2010 alone, American infants' risk of death was 76 percent higher than infants in comparably wealthy nations and 56 percent higher for those 1 through 19. Those between 15 and 19 years old were a shocking 82 times more likely to die from gun violence than those in similar countries.
The causes driving the United States' child mortality rate included infant deaths, firearm deaths, and car crashes, but Thakrar pointed to a few other things that could be setting the United States apart. Infant outcomes could be affected by "our fragmented health care system," Thakrar told Vox, and an increase in child poverty rates in the 1980s likely affected child mortality rates, as well.
"Existing research has shown that infants die more frequently in the US, but this was the first time we were able to see that this trend started decades ago," Thakrar told CNN. "We found that excess deaths in the US are concentrated among infants, from causes such as immaturity and SIDS, and among teens, from injuries."
In their study, the authors suggested several ways to tackle the United States' child mortality rate, including improving perinatal health outcomes, reducing automobile accidents, and lowering the number of firearm assaults.
Immediate action on those points, however, seems unlikely based on events that have taken place in the last year. Some states are expected to lose Children's Health Insurance Program funding by mid-January, according to NPR, and the program — which provides 9 million low-income children with health coverage — has yet to receive a permanent budget extension.
On the gun control front, the Trump administration killed efforts made by President Obama to implement further background checks on gun buyers earlier this year, and several federal departments have already eased their firearm regulations, according to The Washington Post.
It's ridiculous that the world's largest economy still has the worst child mortality outcomes among similarly rich countries, and it's a statistic the country needs to work on turning around immediately. Because 12,000 avoidable deaths a year is 12,000 too many.