U.S. Childhood Mortality Rate is 70% Higher Than Other Wealthy Countries

It is a moral disgrace for world history’s wealthiest country to have such a high child mortality rate. That’s part of the consequence of the U.S. lacking a national single-payer healthcare system, and it’s also a consequence of the U.S. Congress having prioritized support for the rich over reducing the plight of children.

American kids are 70 percent more likely to die during childhood compared with children in other wealthy, democratic nations, according to a peer-reviewed study published Monday by Health Affairs.

“This study should alarm everyone,” Dr. Ashish Thakrar, the study’s lead author and an internal medicine resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, told CNN.

“The U.S. is the most dangerous of wealthy, democratic countries in the world for children,” he added. “Across all ages and in both sexes, children have been dying more often in the U.S. than in similar countries since the 1980s.”

The most common causes of death among children renews concerns about the American healthcare system, access to guns, and vehicle safety.

The risk of death is even higher for American infants and teenagers compared with their counterparts abroad. Babies in the U.S. are 76 percent more likely to die during their first year of life—often because of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or complications related to being born prematurely—while 15- to 19-year-olds are 82 times more likely to die from gun violence, which Thakrar called “the most disturbing new finding.”

Thakrar and his fellow researchers examined the childhood mortality rates from 1961 to 2010 for the United States as well as 19 other nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), including Australia, Canada, Japan, and several European and Scandinavian countries.

Thakrar told Vox‘s Sarah Kliff he believes the study’s findings are tied to a rise in childhood poverty in the U.S. during the 1980s, but also is in large part “the impact of our fragmented healthcare system” in the United States. For example, he said, “Mothers who are qualifying for Medicaid for the first time because they’re mothers might be seeing doctors for the first time. They might not have a family physician, or a clear support system.”

As numerous analyses and studies have shown over the years, the lack of a universal healthcare system in the U.S. has led to higher mortality rates and poorer healthcare outcomes than in countries that have robust systems that cover all people.

While the Republicans’ tax plan, which passed Congress and was signed by President Donald Trump late last year, partly dismantles the American healthcare system, lawmakers continue to put off refunding the national Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)—which serves 9 million children—and Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, which expired at the end September.

Although federal lawmakers passed a short-term spending measure that provided some funds for CHIP just before the New Year, states are continuing to warn recipients that without further funding, they will soon run out of money and no longer be able to provide necessary healthcare services.

“Multiple states have sent out letters warning families that their kids’ health insurance could end on January 31,” Kliff detailed in another article. “Congress did pass a temporary bill that it expected to extend CHIP’s life span until March—but it turns out they got the math wrong, and states may run out of funding as early as January 19. Eleven days from now.”

Thakrar told Kliff he is concerned about how funding instability for programs that provide healthcare to American kids will continue to impact childhood mortality rates in the United States.

“We’re seeing the effects of instability right now,” he said. “All across the country families are waiting to hear if CHIP will be reinstated, whether they’ll continue to have health insurance, their household visitations are at risk. Programs that have proven their benefit in the country still face constant instability.”

Fracking Endangers Localized Infant Health

The results of fracking are in actuality worse than the study details. The practice of fracking should be banned for a variety of reasons — including the contamination of drinking water reserves — and the dangers posed to infant health provide another example of why.

Health risks increase for infants born to mothers living within 2 miles of a hydraulic fracturing site, according to a study published Dec. 13 in Science Advances. The research team found that infants born within a half a mile from a fracking site were 25 percent more likely to be born at low birth weights, leaving them at greater risk of infant mortality, ADHD, asthma, lower test scores, lower schooling attainment and lower lifetime earnings.

“Given the growing evidence that pollution affects babies in utero, it should not be surprising that fracking, which is a heavy industrial activity, has negative effects on infants,” said co-author Janet M. Currie, the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University.

“As local and state policymakers decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in their communities, it is crucial that they carefully examine the costs and benefits, including the potential impacts from pollution,” said study co-author Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “This study provides the strongest large-scale evidence of a link between the pollution that stems from hydraulic fracturing activities and our health, specifically the health of babies.”

Research: Children Uniquely Vulnerable to Sleep Disruption from Electronic Screens

The article notes that children and teens are particularly sensitive to their sleep quality being disturbed by screens, to which my initial recommendation would be to turn them off at least a half hour before sleeping when possible. Consistently having enough sleep is one of the most important aspects in maintaining human health, and the costs of deviating from this truth can be quite substantial.

With their brains, sleep patterns, and eyes still developing, children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the sleep-disrupting effects of screen time, according to a sweeping review of the literature published today in the journal Pediatrics.

“The vast majority of studies find that kids and teens who consume more screen-based media are more likely to experience sleep disruption,” says first author Monique LeBourgeois, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder. “With this paper, we wanted to go one step further by reviewing the studies that also point to the reasons why digital media adversely affects sleep.”

Of more than five dozen studies looking at youths ages 5 to 17 from around the world, 90 percent have found that more screen time is associated with delayed bedtimes, fewer hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality, the authors report.

Biological, neurological and environmental factors all play a role:

Because their eyes are not fully developed, children are more sensitive than adults to the impact of light on the internal body clock, the paper notes.

“Light is our brain clock’s primary timekeeper,” LeBourgeois says, explaining that when light hits the retina in the eye in the evening hours it suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, delaying sleepiness and pushing back the timing of the body clock. “We know younger individuals have larger pupils, and their lenses are more transparent, so their exposure and sensitivity to that light is even greater than in older individuals.”

The authors point to one study that found that when adults and school-age children were exposed to the same amount and intensity of light, the children’s melatonin levels fell twice as much. Studies have also shown that short-wavelength “blue light” — ubiquitous in hand-held electronics — is particularly potent at suppressing melatonin.

[…]

The authors also note that children and adolescents who leave a phone or computer on overnight in their bedroom are significantly more likely to have trouble sleeping. More than 75 percent of youths have screen-based media in their bedrooms, 60 percent interact with them in the hour before bedtime, and 45 percent use their phones as an alarm.

“Digital Media and Sleep in Childhood and Adolescence” is one of 22 papers included in todays’ first-ever supplemental issue of Pediatrics to focus on screen time and youth health. In addition to summarizing past research, the papers set goals for future research, including looking at the impact of screen time on toddlers and preschoolers.

“The digital media landscape is evolving so quickly, we need our research to catch up just to answer some basic questions,” says Dr. Pam Hurst-Della Pietra, founder of the nonprofit Children and Screens, which helped orchestrate the issue.