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Why Are So Many Babies Dying in the United States?

Photograph by Twenty20

The U.S. is one of the wealthiest and most influential nations in the world. Yet, for some reason, it's still struggling in meaningful ways with protecting our children. A new study, which analyzed childhood mortality rates of 19 economically similar countries between 1961 and 2010, revealed that, despite making improvements, the U.S. is lagging behind.

Using data from the Human Mortality Database and World Health Organization, researchers were able to determine that childhood mortality in the U.S. has been higher (600,000 excess deaths to be exact) than all comparable nations since the 1980s. Findings were published in the journal Health Affairs.

Sadly, in the years between 2001-2010, infants in the U.S. were 76 percent more likely to die, according to the study. Among the leading causes of death were premature births and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Not only that, but children in the U.S. also were reportedly three times more likely to die from prematurity at birth and more than twice as likely to die from SIDS than their counterparts in peer nations.

Researchers blamed other deaths—those occurring in older children aged 15 to 19—on motor vehicles and firearms. Things are so bad, in fact, that the U.S. was ranked 25th in a list of 29 developed countries for overall child health and safety by the United Nations Children’s Fund in 2013.

"Now is not the time to defund the programs that support our children’s health," says Dr. Shish Thakrar, an internal medicine resident at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and lead author of the study.

Although the research team has since called on officials to fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), the question remains: What can we do to protect our kids?

Dr. Christopher Forrest, the study’s senior author and a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, hopes that "policymakers can use these finding to make strategic public health decisions for all U.S. children to ensure that we don’t fall further behind peer nations."

As parents, we might not be able to control everything, like premature births or car accidents, but we can help the world protect our babies against SIDS by following a few simple sleep recommendations provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics. At least, it’s a start.

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