RCPCH responds to new child mortality study

English under 5's are one and half times more likely to die than those living in Sweden. RCPCH responds to new paper published in Lancet.

The paper, published in The Lancet, compares child mortality rates of more than 3.9 million English births and 1 million Swedish births and says the difference is largely due to children in England typically weighing less at birth, being born earlier, and having more birth anomalies (such as congenital heart defects) than in Sweden.

Responding to paper published in The Lancet today which seeks to understand why child mortality is higher in England than in Sweden, Dr Ronny Cheung, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

“The results of this paper emphasise what we have known for many years. Yet the stark reality remains that in England, more children are dying than our Western European counterparts. As this paper points out, Sweden and England are two high-income countries with similar levels of economic development and universal healthcare –  so why are children in England more likely to die than those in Sweden?

"We know that deprivation plays a major part and this can lead to higher rates of poor mental health, increased chance of alcohol or substance misuse, and obesity.  Babies of the most deprived families are more likely to be born premature or with low weight than the most affluent ones, and twice as likely to die in the first year of life. As the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, we have little chance of catching up with our European neighbours without social inequalities being addressed.

"At a time where public health budgets are being cut, the very services that are required to help improve these rates are being lost. We need a commitment from Government that health visiting services will be protected- helping professionals support mothers at risk of ill physical and mental health, in addition to providing stop smoking services, breastfeeding support and weight management advice to those at risk groups.”

The study used routinely collected medical data from the English NHS and Swedish health services to compare births from 2003 to 2012, and track the children’s health and death records up to their fifth birthday. These records included information on the mother’s age, family’s socioeconomic position, as well as length of pregnancy, the child’s birthweight, gender, and whether they had any birth anomalies.