The United States has a disproportionately high infant mortality rate compared to other rich countries. The leading cause of infant deaths is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. But how does the tragic rate of SIDS deaths in the United States fare in comparison to its neighbor up north? Data shows that SIDS rates in the United States are higher than in Canada, but that rates vary greatly by region in both countries.
SIDS is defined by the CDC as the "sudden death of an infant less than one year of age." The cause of death is typically unknown, but there are risk factors, including babies sleeping on their stomachs, being exposed to tobacco smoke, or accidental suffocation.
In 2015, there were about 1,600 deaths from SIDS in the United States, making up 43 percent of infant deaths, the CDC reported. But in Canada, just 6 percent of infant deaths were from SIDS, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Three babies die from SIDS each week, or about 150 a year, The Canadian Foundation for the Study of Infant Death reported.
Canada's SIDS rates may be lower because Canada has universal healthcare. The country's health care system is publicly funded and covers all Canadian citizens. A ranking of healthcare systems by the Commonwealth Fund suggested that if America had Canada's healthcare system, 5,400 fewer infant deaths would occur.
But one way that the United States and Canada are definitely comparable is that SIDS rates vary greatly by region. In the United States, out of every 100,000 births in Arkansas 141 babies die, according to the March of Dimes. That's compared to the national average of 39 babies. In West Virginia, it's 110 out of every 100,000, compared to 14 in New York or 15 in Massachusetts.
Michelle Kling, a spokesperson for the March of Dimes, told Romper that many Southern states have "higher rates for many risk factors" related to SIDs deaths, premature birth rates, and other poor health outcomes. "For example, less health care coverage and higher rates of smoking."
And in Nuvanet, which is in northern Canada, babies are more than four times more likely to die from SIDS than the national average rate. The national infant mortality rate in Canada is 3.4 out of every 1,000 babies, according to a study. But in Nuvanet, it's 21, Global News reported. And a study of the infant deaths in Nuvanet found that 7 in 10 of the babies who died were sleeping on their stomach instead of their backs. Like rural America, mothers in Nuvanet tend to have less access to health care. They also tend to be younger, which is a risk factor for SIDS.
“Information regarding sleep position needs to be better communicated in a culturally-appropriate manner," Laura Arbour, a pediatrician at the University of British Columbia told Global News. "Messaging about infant care and sleep practices should come from within communities as well as from health care providers.”
The good thing is that SIDS rates have declined in both countries. In both countries, campaigns to promote and raise awareness about safe sleeping habits have helped save babies' lives. In the United States, SIDS deaths decreased by 29 percent from 2005 to 2014, according to the CDC. And in Canada, the rate of deaths from SIDS used to be 78.4. Now it's been cut in half at 34.6. That should be a trend in every country.