Explaining the recent decrease in US infant mortality rate, 2007–2013
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Explaining the recent decrease in US infant mortality rate, 2007–2013

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  • Alternative Title:
    Am J Obstet Gynecol
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    The U.S. infant mortality rate has been steadily decreasing in recent years as has the preterm birth rate; preterm birth is a major factor associated with death during the first year of life. The degree to which changes in gestational age-specific mortality and changes in the distribution of births by gestational age have contributed to the decrease in the infant mortality rate requires clarification.


    To better understand the major contributors to the 2007–2013 infant mortality decline for the total population, and for infants born to non-Hispanic black, non-Hispanic white, and Hispanic women.

    Study Design

    We identified births and infant deaths from 2007 and 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Vital Statistics System’s period linked birth and infant death files. We included all deaths and births for which there was a reported gestational age at birth on the birth certificate of 22 weeks or greater. The decrease in the infant mortality rate was disaggregated such that all of the change could be attributed to improvements in gestational age-specific infant mortality rates and changes in the distribution of gestational age, by week of gestation, using the Kitagawa method. Sensitivity analyses were performed to account for records where obstetric estimate of gestational age was missing and for deaths and births less than 22 weeks gestation. Maternal race and ethnicity information was obtained from the birth certificate.


    The infant mortality rates after exclusions were 5.72 and 4.92 per 1000 live births for 2007 and 2013 respectively with an absolute difference of −0.80 (14% decrease). Infant mortality rates declined by 11% for non-Hispanic whites, by 19% for non-Hispanic blacks, and by 14% for Hispanics during the period. Compared to 2007, the proportion of births in each gestational age category was lower in 2013 with the exception of 39 weeks where there was an increase in the proportion of births from 30.1 percent in 2007 to 37.5 percent in 2013. Gestational age-specific mortality decreased for each gestational age category between 2007 and 2013 except 33 weeks and >42 weeks. About 31 percent of the decrease in the US infant mortality rate from 2007–2013 was due to changes in the gestational age distribution, and 69 percent was due to improvements in gestational age-specific survival. Improvements in the gestational age distribution from 2007–2013 benefitted infants of non-Hispanic white women (48%) the most, followed by infants of non-Hispanic black (31%) and Hispanic (17%) women.


    Infant mortality improved between 2007 and 2013 as a result of both improvements in the distribution of gestational age at birth and improvements in survival after birth. The differential contribution of improvements in the gestational age distribution at birth by race and ethnicity suggests that preconception and antenatal health and health care aimed at preventing or delaying preterm birth may not be reaching all populations.

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