Differences Between Rural and Urban Areas in Mortality Rates for the Leading Causes of Infant Death: United States, 2013–2015

Questions for Danielle Ely, Ph.D., “Differences Between Rural and Urban Areas in Mortality Rates for the Leading Causes of Infant Death: United States, 2013–2015

Q: Why did you decide to examine differences in mortality rates for the leading causes of infant death between rural and urban areas in the United States?

DE: After finding differences in infant mortality rates between rural and urban places in previous work, we thought causes of death might also differ by urbanization level. Although previous research looked at infant mortality rates by age of death and residence, there had not been research on leading causes of infant death by rural-urban status.


Q: Can you describe the differences in infant, neonatal, and postneonatal mortality rates?

DE: Infant mortality rates are based on all infant deaths. Neonatal mortality specifies the infant was less than 28 days of age at time of death and postneonatal mortality rates are those infant deaths that occurred between 28 days and 11 months of age. In this data brief, as in previous research, we see higher neonatal mortality rates than postneonatal mortality rates. Indeed, neonatal mortality rates were nearly twice as high as postneonatal mortality rates across urbanization levels. Further, there are distinct differences in the leading causes of death for neonatal and postneonatal mortality. Although both include congenital malformations, neonatal deaths are generally associated with more birth related medical issues whereas postneonatal deaths are generally associated with more causes external from the infant.


Q: Overall, how did the mortality rate for the five leading causes of infant death vary by urbanization level?

DE: Rural areas have higher infant, neonatal, and postneonatal mortality rates than urban areas. However, when we drill down by the leading causes of death by age of death, there are specific causes of death where infants in rural areas do experience lower mortality rates, such as mortality from low birthweight and from maternal complications. However, there are markedly higher mortality rates for both neonatal and postneonatal infants from congenital malformations, sudden infant death syndrome, and unintentional injuries in rural places than in urban.


Q: Were there any surprises in the findings from this report?

DE: Although we expected differences in mortality rates by the leading causes of death, I think we were surprised by the marked differences for some causes; particularly SIDS mortality rates being twice as high in rural places than in large urban counties. I also think some of the most interesting findings in the report are related to how rural infant mortality rates are generally higher than rates in urban areas, but there are some causes for which rural places have similar or even lower rates compared to urban places.


Q: What is the take home message in this report?

DE: The message that should be taken from this report is that different types of places– rural and urban– have different issues when it comes to the leading causes of infant death. Although the leading causes are generally the same across areas, there are substantial differences in rates, meaning different public health interventions may be needed for people in rural areas compared to people in urban areas to address these issues.

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