Sunday, September 06, 2009

Infant Mortality and Obamacare

Interesting article discussing the high infant mortality rate. The reason? Hint: It's not our health care system.

No one denies the problem. Our infant mortality rate is double that of Japan or Sweden. But we live different lives, on average, than people in those places. We suffer more obesity (about 10 times as much as the Japanese), and we have more births to teenagers (seven times more than the Swedes). Nearly 40 percent of American babies are born to unwed mothers.

Factors like these are linked to low birth weight in babies, which is a dangerous thing. In a 2007 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists June O'Neill and Dave O'Neill noted that "a multitude of behaviors unrelated to the health care system such as substance abuse, smoking and obesity" are connected "to the low birth weight and preterm births that underlie the infant death syndrome."

You won't hear about obesity or teenage pregnancy or even a high premature birth rate as the reason for America's high infant mortality rate from Obamacare supporters. That's because Obamacare won't help that rate. Instead, you'll hear how shameful our infant mortality rate is and how prenatal care would help. But that's not really true, either.

The truth is, we have a lot of tiny, premature babies, and because we consider them live births, we also record their deaths. This isn't true in some other countries. If a baby is born very prematurely, the baby isn't recorded as a live birth until it advances to a certain weight. So, if the baby dies within a day or two of birth, the baby is recorded as a stillbirth.

That, of course, is a statistical sleight of hand, designed only to help bureaucrats who keep track of such things. The real problem is that having the Best Health Care in the World won't help our infant mortality rate if the behavior of individuals doesn't change.