This is the first in a series of commonly reported, and even more commonly believed, health myths. This series is based upon the research from Fox News analyst James Farrell.
Talk about stretching a point until it snaps. This ranking is based on some very flawed data and assumptions.
The U.S. ranks high on this list largely because this country numbers among those that actually measure neonatal deaths, notably in premature infant fatalities, unlike other countries that basically leave premature babies to die, notes health analyst Betsey McCaughey.
Other statistical quirks push the U.S. unjustifiably higher in this ranking compared to other countries.
The Center for Disease Control says the U.S. ranks 29th in the world for infant mortality rates, (according to the CDC), behind most other developed nations.
The U.S. is supposedly worse than Singapore, Hong Kong, Greece, Northern Ireland, Cuba and Hungary. And the U.S. is supposedly on a par with Slovakia and Poland.
CNN, the New York Times, numerous outlets across the country report the U.S. as abysmal in terms of infant mortality, without delving into what is behind this ranking.
The Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research group, routinely flunks the U.S. health system using the infant mortality rate.
“Infant mortality and our comparison with the rest of the world continue to be an embarrassment to the United States,” Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a research organization, has said.
First, let’s start with the definition. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a country’s infant mortality rate as the number of infants who die between birth and age one, per 1,000 live births.
WHO says a live birth is when a baby shows any signs of life, even if, say, a low birth weight baby takes one, single breath, or has one heartbeat. While the U.S. uses this definition, other countries don’t and so don’t count premature or severely ill babies as live births-or deaths.
The United States counts all births if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size or duration of life, notes Bernardine Healy, a former director of the National Institutes of Health and former president and chief executive of the American Red Cross (Healy noted this information in a column for U.S. News & World Report).
And that includes stillbirths, which many other countries don’t report.
And what counts as a birth varies from country to country. In Austria and Germany, fetal weight must be at least 500 grams (1 pound) before these countries count these infants as live births, Healy notes.
In other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, the fetus must be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) long, Healy notes. In Belgium and France, births at less than 26 weeks of pregnancy are registered as lifeless, and are not counted, Healy says.
And some countries don’t reliably register babies who die within the first 24 hours of birth, Healy notes.
Norway, which has one of the lowest infant mortality rates, shows no better infant survival than the United States when you factor in Norway’s underweight infants that are not now counted, Healy says, quoting Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Moreover, the ranking doesn’t take into account that the US has a diverse, heterogeneous population, Healy adds, unlike, say, in Iceland, which tracks all infant deaths regardless of factor, but has a population under 300,000 that is 94% homogenous.
Likewise, Finland and Japan do not have the ethnic and cultural diversity of the U.S.’s 300 cm-plus citizens.
Plus, the U.S. has a high rate of teen pregnancies, teens who smoke, who take drugs, who are obese and uneducated, all factors which cause higher infant mortality rates.
And the US has more mothers taking fertility treatments, which keeps the rate of pregnancy high due to multiple-birth pregnancies.
Again, the U.S. counts all of these infants as births. Moreover, we’re not losing healthy babies, as the scary stats imply. Most of the babies that die are either premature or born seriously ill, including those with congenital malformations.
Even the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which collects the European numbers, cautions against using comparisons country-by-country.
“Some of the international variation in infant and neonatal mortality rates may be due to variations among countries in registering practices of premature infants (whether they are reported as live births or not),” the OECD says.
“In several countries, such as in the United States, Canada and the Nordic countries, very premature babies (with relatively low odds of survival) are registered as live births, which increases mortality rates compared with other countries that do not register them as live births.” (Note: Emphasis EMac’s).
The U.S. ranks much better on a measure that the World Health Organization says is more accurate, the perinatal mortality rate, defined as death between 22 weeks’ gestation and 7 days after birth.
According to the WHO 2006 report on Neonatal and Perinatal Mortality, the U.S. comes in at 16th-and even higher if you knock out several tiny countries with tiny birthrates and populations, such as Martinique, Hong Kong, and San Marino.
Here are the topics for the entire series:
- Health Myth #1: “The U.S. has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world.”
- Health Myth #2: “About 46 million Americans lack access to health insurance.”
- New Analysis of the Myth: “46 Million Americans Without Health Insurance”
- Health Myth #3: “The uninsured can’t afford to buy coverage.”
- Health Myth #4: “Most of the uninsured do not have health insurance because they are not working and so don’t have access to health benefits through an employer.”
- Health Myth #5: “The estimated 45 million people without health insurance lacked health insurance for every day of the year.”
- Health Myth #6: “Government-run universal health care would increase the international competitiveness of U.S. companies.”
- Health Myth #7: “The cost of uncompensated care for the uninsured significantly increases hospital costs.”
- Health Myth #8: “Nationalized health care would not impact patient waiting times.”
- Health Myth #9: “Insurers cover less today than they did in the past.”
- Health Myth #10: “Preventive Medicine Saves Money”