Questions for Danielle Ely, Ph.D., Health Statistician and Author of “Infant Mortality by Age at Death in the United States, 2016”
Q: What made you decide to focus on the age when infants die in this new analysis of infant mortality in the United States?
DE: We focused this study on the age when infants die for a number for reasons. Age at death is an important factor in the risk of infant mortality. One important statistic is that infants are more likely to die before 28 days of age (neonatal deaths) than infants who live to 28 days and older (postneonatal deaths.) By presenting infant mortality rates by age at death, we show the differences in the likelihood of death between these two infant groups — information that can help inform the U.S. Public Health Community, families, and physicians on this critical age factor in infant lives and deaths.
Q: What sort of trend data do you have for the demographics and the cause of death data in your new study on infant mortality at the age of death?
DE: We have interesting trend data here in this report, as well as other public-use resources that are available for further research and data. Our new report looks at the overall trends in infant, neonatal and postneonatal mortality rates from 2007 (the most recent peak in infant mortality) through 2016. For 2016, we looked at infant mortality rates by mother’s race and Hispanic origin and age and cause of death.
Q: Was there a result in your study’s analysis of infant mortality at the age of death that you hadn’t expected and that really surprised you?
DE: An important finding in this study is the lack of improvements to infant mortality. Since infant mortality had been on the decline in the United States for much of the last two decades, it was surprising that the infant mortality rate did not show significant declines from 2011-2016. Another recent report also showed a similar lack of improvement in fetal/perinatal mortality rates from 2014 through 2016.
Q: What differences, if any, did you see in infant mortality among race and ethnic groups, or any other demographics?
DE: The sometimes substantial differences among race and Hispanic origin groups in this report on infant mortality are noteworthy. We found that infants of non-Hispanic black mothers continue to have total, neonatal, and postneonatal mortality rates that were more than two times as high as infants of non-Hispanic white, Asian or Pacific Islander, or Hispanic mothers. Infants of American Indian or Alaska Native mothers had the next highest rates and had postneonatal mortality rates that were similar to infants of non-Hispanic black mothers.
Q: What would you say is the take-home message of this report?
DE: The most important message from this data brief is the lack of improvement in total infant mortality rates since 2011. Neonatal infants of all race and Hispanic origin groups we examined have higher mortality rates than postneonatal infants. Further, infants of non-Hispanic black women continue to have a higher risk of mortality than infants of non-Hispanic white, Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native, or Hispanic mothers. This information can further our understanding of current infant mortality trends and provide information on where improvements can be made.