By: Mike Hollingshaus
Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.
Two of the most important population health metrics are the life expectancy at birth (LEB) and the infant mortality rate (IMR). A previous blog post explored Utah’s LEB, and this blog focuses on IMRs, though the two are clearly linked. IMR is the share of infants that die prior to reaching their first birthday, multiplied by 1,000, and is an important indicator of health, development, and equality. The Population Reference Bureau publishes IMRs for several countries, and values range from a low IMR of approximately 2 (in Scandinavian countries) to a high of 75 (in Sierra Leone). The United States and Utah have IMRs between 5 and 6.
Why study infant mortality rates?
There are few things more tragic than the death of a newborn and having a lower IMR is good because it means fewer of those deaths have occurred. But IMR is also a prime indicator of health and development. Technology has been very successful at keeping babies alive, and one of the first things societies seek to accomplish with innovative technology is to reduce their IMR. The improvements in IMR over the past century have vastly increased LEB.
Furthermore, IMR is an important indicator of equality. Social determinants of health play a larger role for infants compared to adults. Adults can take some responsibility for individual health behaviors such as smoking and drinking, but infants clearly cannot. Therefore, social determinants such as economic inequality, social support, and health care availability are much more clearly linked to infant health, leading some experts to label IMR dispa