Baby Deaths Shame; UK's Infant Mortality Is the Worst in Western Europe, with Links to Soaring Rates of Obesity

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Byline: Jenny Hope Medical Correspondent

THE number of children dying under the age of five is worse in Britain than anywhere else in Western Europe as women delay motherhood and lead unhealthy lives.

Researchers say 4,324 under-fives died in 2008, 'way ahead' of those in France, Germany and Italy.

More than half of the children died within the first four weeks of life and many of the deaths were preventable, according to their report.

Experts say poor antenatal care and a rapid rise in premature births was largely to blame.

Delayed motherhood and soaring rates of obesity among pregnant women are linked to premature births, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

And separate research has shown that British women are dying in pregnancy and birth at the same rate as two decades ago - and at the same rate as women in Albania and Poland.

Figures from these countries are harder to compare accurately, however, because the different population size and concerns about their recordkeeping.

The latest report, published today in The Lancet medical journal, looks at global death rates in children under five.

Two-thirds of the 8.8million deaths were caused by infectious diseases.

But the UK had the highest number of deaths in this age group in Western Europe - a 'difference that cannot be solely accounted for by population size', says The Lancet.

The UK, with a population of around 61million, had 4,324 deaths in children under five in 2008, while France had 3,090 deaths in a population of 64million.

In Germany, where the population is 82million, there were 2,943 deaths, while Italy recorded 2,350 deaths in a population of 60million. But Turkey, with 73million, had almost 30,000 deaths of under-fives.

The total death rate in the UK was 'very small' in the global context, says the study by scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore, Maryland, and the World Health Organisation. …