US child mortality rising at rates not seen in 50 years

Child and adolescent mortality rates are climbing in the U.S. at the sharpest rates in nearly 50 years, a trend that has "ominous implications," new research published in JAMA on March 13 revealed.

Researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond and the University of Washington in Seattle, say that COVID-19 is not related to the reasons for the startling increase, but rather cited factors including suicides, homicides and drug overdoses as the driving force behind the new statistics. 

Transportation-caused deaths, which were previously in decline, also rose 15.6 percent for adolescents. 

"Firearms play a central role in this crisis. They are the leading cause of death among youths aged 1 to 19 years and accounted for nearly half (47.8 percent) of the increase in all-cause mortality in 2020," researchers wrote. "Bullets, drugs, and automobiles are now causing a youth death toll sufficient to elevate all-cause mortality rates, the largest such increase in recent memory." 

Examination of mortality data since 1999 revealed that "all-cause mortality rate for ages 1 to 19 years increased by 10.7 percent, and it increased by an additional 8.3 percent between 2020 and 2021," they wrote. However, the age group most affected by the surge appears to be adolescents between the ages 10 and 19 — Black and Hispanic male youth were identified as the most affected by the increases. 

"Current efforts to understand gun violence, overcome political gridlock, and enact sensible firearm policies are not progressing with the speed that pediatric suicides and homicides require," researchers concluded.

The only age group among children and adolescents not to see an increase was infants.

Although the sharp increases in these mortality rates were not driven by COVID-19, researchers did note that the pandemic may have "poured fuel on the fire" to exacerbate these issues.

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