7 Reasons Why American Children Are Failing to Thrive


Right before the Children's Health Insurance Program is set to expire, shocking new research reveals the U.S. falls dead last when it comes to child deaths compared to peer countries.

Of the 20 wealthiest democratic countries in the world, the United States is scoring dismally in its ability to keep kids alive through childhood. Despite spending more than any other nation on health care per capita for children, an infant born in the United States is 76 percent more likely to die before reaching adulthood than the world’s other wealthiest countries. A frightening new study published in Health Affairs strives to explain why that is the case.

The study analyzed data from the World Health Organization and the global Human Mortality Database in order to determine how the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rank on child mortality. The highest performing nations for infant mortality are Iceland, Japan and Sweden. For children between the ages of 1-19, the top nations are Sweden, the Netherlands and Japan. Here are seven reasons why American children are failing to thrive, according to the study.

1. Childhood Poverty

Researchers looked at data from 1961 to 2010, and, starting in the '80s, the U.S. child mortality rates didn't decline as much as they did in other wealthy democratic nations. Lead study author Ashish Thakrar believes there is a direct correlation between the rise in childhood poverty in the 1980s and the United States falling behind. During the '80s, a quarter of children living in major cities were classified as living below the poverty line — which directly impacts kids' access to medical care, nutritious food and safe living spaces.

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2. Extreme Immaturity

The leading cause of death among infants born in the U.S. was extreme immaturity — in other words, being born extremely premature, i.e. less than 28 weeks of gestational age. An American baby is three times more likely to be affected than those born in the other OECD nations. Not so coincidentally, babies born into poverty are more likely to be born preterm. While lower-income countries may have higher rates, America is still in the top 10 of countries with the highest overall number of preterm births, according to the World Health Organization.

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Sudden infant death syndrome was 2.3 three times higher in the United States than the other 19 countries examined. Commonly linked to babies sleeping on their bellies, it is estimated that 2,500 babies die from SIDS every year.

4.  Automobile Accidents

“In all the wealthy, democratic countries we studied children are dying less often then they were 50 years ago,” explained study leader Thakrar. “But we found that children are dying more often in the United States than in any similar country.” One explanation can be the pervasive car culture in the U.S. In fact, according to the Health Affairs study, the leading cause of death for teens between the ages of 15 and 19 was motor vehicle accidents. Americans were twice as likely to die in a car accident than those in OECD19.

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5.  Assaults by Firearm

The second leading cause of death for teens has to do with firearms. American teens, according to the study, are a whopping 82 times more likely to die a gun-related death than those in the other countries, which is insanely scary.

6.  Fragmented Health Care System

The study's researchers note that America's fragmented health care system contributes to its child mortality rate "in the context of a weak social safety net that fails to buffer vulnerable populations." Thakrar points out that many women don’t qualify for health care until after they give birth instead of during their pregnancy, and without proper prenatal care, health issues for the child could arise.

7. Lack of Spending on Child Health and Welfare Programs

Despite the fact the U.S. spends more per capita on health care, it “spent significantly less of its gross domestic product per capita on child health and welfare programs, compared to other wealthy nations,” says the study. The issue is timely for this reason: Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program — which aids a staggering 9 million low-income kids with health care access — is set to expire at the end of January. Let’s face it: Many of these children are at risk of becoming statistics.

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