Infant Mortality Rate Shows 'Significant' Increase

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Byline: Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Infant mortality in the United States rose for the first time in more than 40 years in 2002, but federal analysts are not ready to say this could be the start of an alarming trend.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) yesterday released a report showing that infant mortality climbed from a rate of 6.8 per 1,000 live births in 2001 to a rate of 7.0 per 1,000 live births in 2002. The rise was called "significant."

Authors of the report, titled "Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2002," said they were surprised by the findings, because each year since 1958, the overall infant mortality rate in the country had either dropped steadily or remained unchanged.

"This [increase] may be a one-year blip, since early data for 2003 suggests that the 2003 infant mortality rate will be lower than in 2002. But we won't know for certain for several months," said Joyce Martin, NCHS's lead statistician for reproductive information, who contributed to the report.

Ms. Martin said she and her research associate, Kenneth D. Kochanek, "don't have enough data on 2002 mortality to explain the increase." But she strongly denied wire reports yesterday that tied the increase to complications resulting from women delaying motherhood.

The "two important measures" in at-risk pregnancies and births, she said, are whether the child is born "preterm," meaning less than 37 weeks of gestation, and has a low birth weight, meaning 5.5 pounds or less. There were increases in both in 2002.

The NCHS report found that the rise in deaths for babies younger than 1 in 2002 was "concentrated in the neonatal period," meaning infants younger than 28 days. …