Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children

Newborn babies twice as likely to die in deprived areas

Newborn babies twice as likely to die in deprived areas Infant mortality gap may be widening

Twice as many newborn babies die in the most deprived areas of England compared to the most affluent ones, a study has found.

The previous UK Government committed itself to reducing the gap in infant mortality between the rich and poor in England and Wales by 10 per cent by 2010. However, there is evidence to suggest that the target is unlikely to be met and the gap appears to be widening.

A research team at Leicester University looked at all neonatal deaths in England between 1997 and 2007, during which time 18,524 newborn babies died.

However, the death rates for newborn babies varied considerably across the country. In some of the most deprived areas of England, the infant mortality rates were twice as high compared with the most affluent areas.

According to the researchers: “Neonatal deaths would be 39 per cent lower if all areas had the same neonatal mortality rates as the least deprived areas.”

When they looked at the cause of death, eight out of ten deaths were due to either a birth defect or premature birth.

The figures could not be explained by differences in how the women were cared for during their pregnancy or when giving birth.

As survival rates for very premature babies have been roughly the same in recent years, other known risk factors for premature babies should be targeted.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the authors said: "Smoking, obesity and teenage pregnancy have all been the subject of long-standing public health campaigns with limited success, and the UK's suggested goals require major behavioural changes."

They also said that understanding the link between deprivation and premature birth should be a major research priority.

This article was published on Fri 3 December 2010

Image © Wendy Kaveney - Fotolia.com

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