[Parentsgroup-list] Infant Mortality Rates are NOT a Political Issue

Brandeis McBratney-Owen mcbratn at fas.harvard.edu
Tue Aug 2 10:23:28 EDT 2005

Dear Jesse (and all other parents)-

Thank you for the articles on infant mortality, but I’d like to stress to you
that what’s up with infant mortality rates isn’t “very simple” and is not a
political issue that people enjoy using to their personal advantage (“That so
many on the other side of the political spectrum continue to trot this out
 I am coming from an apolitical stance here and I report:

"The infant mortality rate rose to 7.0/1000 live births in 2002 from 6.8
 in 2001, marking the first increase in this rate in >4 decades. Increases were
 distributed fairly widely across age, racial/ethnic groups, and geographic
 areas..... Although the downward trend in infant mortality rates in many
developed nations may have stabilized, the United States still ranked 27th
among these nations in 2001."

“One reason for the high infant mortality rates in the US is the high rate of
very low birth weight births in the country relative to other developed
countries.  It is unlikely that the very low birth weight births will decrease
much even among singleton births because current trends show no declines in
recent years.  There may be some reporting differences across countries related
to distinguishing between live births and fetal deaths, but the magnitude of
these differences is unlikely to be large enough to account for the large
disparities between US rates and the rest of the developed world”

(From Pediatrics. 2005 Mar;115(3):619-34. Annual summary of vital
statistics--2003. Martin JA, Kochanek KD, Strobino DM, Guyer B, MacDorman MF.)

You suggested that "foreigners bringing their children here when they have
severe medical problems" may be why our infant mortality rates are so high. 
The article above didn’t note this as a possibility at all.  Do you have any
references for that?  I’m sincerely curious.

On another note, although I was thinking of lifestyle differences that may
decrease our longevity in the US (for example: Australia gets 80 years to our
77---genes and diet aren’t too different between the two
maybe less stress
don’t know but I sure find this interesting), I very much disagree with your
comment "Decreased longevity is hardly a function of medical care.  Longevity
is not well predicted by level of access to medical care and is certainly more
a function of dietary customs and probably genetics.” If you look at the other
end of the longevity spectrum, no access to medical care is the number one
problem.  Longevity is certainly a function of medical care when there is no
access to care or medications to slow the complications of HIV infection making
your life expectancy a dismal 33 years in Swaziland (33 years!!!).  Actually I
think I’ll stop wondering why the US life expectancy is 3 years less than in
Australia and be grateful I’m not HIV positive in Africa.  Actually I think
I’ll move to Australia and be even more grateful.

Finally, people should be aware of the ways other countries deal with
healthcare, taxes, unemployment, education, etc (which was the point of
Christine's maternity leave article in the first place).  I used to be a raving
libertarian (in favor of very limited government for everything from social
programs to governing businesses---the less government the better and poor
people could get help from charities), but then I lived abroad and have seen
that a more involved government isn’t such a bad thing.  What a shock!  In the
UK we had access to free quality medical care, got more vacation time (5
weeks), didn’t have to worry that we could be killed in the streets by a
handgun, had a good safety net should our jobs have fallen through, and
generally didn’t feel like we had to work ourselves to the bone to survive.  Oh
and we paid less tax (the national tax rate in the UK is less than what you pay
in total for US federal tax, state tax, FICA/SS/Medicare-Medicaid, and health
insurance).  Things aren’t perfect over there (or here), but I can say without
a doubt my day to day life was better in the UK.  And now when I look at the
maternity leave my friends are getting, I add that to the list of things I
prefer relative to the US.  I’m lucky I have a choice and can live in the US,
Europe, or Australia---so I’ve been shopping around and the US isn’t topping
the list...but we can do better here!

For now I’d like to make Harvard better and I think we can do it, from making
quality daycare more affordable for those who want it to getting loans for
increasing the amount of parental care for those who want to spend more time
with their children.  OK I’m done posting here for now.

Thanks for your ears and please remember that high infant mortality rates are
apolitical and shouldn’t be easily dismissed.

Most sincerely,

Brandeis McBratney-Owen
Ph.D. Candidate
Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine
Harvard School of Dental Medicine
Department of Oral and Developmental Biology
188 Longwood Avenue, 4th floor
Boston, MA 02115

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