Friday Fallacy: The US Infant Mortality Rate is Worse than that of the “Third World”

A favorite argument in the anti-hospital contingent is that the US infant mortality rate is SO BAD, that it is worse than “third world” countries.

There are many things wrong with the above argument, not the least of which is that the US “has more infant mortality than most other countries, including 3rd world.” You’d think maybe this was one lone internet warrior, but the argument is everywhere.

My favorite part is that both of these women claim that anyone who doesn’t accept what they say just hasn’t done the research. Anyone want a drink?

Before I say anything else, let me mention that “third world” is an outdated term, and we now use “developing countries” to describe, well, developing countries. But, as I often do on this blog, I digress.

There are two things wrong with this argument. First, it simply isn’t true. The US infant mortality rate, while higher than it should be, in my opinion, is nowhere near the rates of developing nations. Let’s have a look at this map:

Huh. Would you look at that. We’re in the same basic category as all of Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia…

A graph is a little more your style? Well, here you go:

Again, there is always improvement to be made when it comes to any kind of mortality, and the US rate is higher than many developed nations (The WHO says the American rate is a 5, and countries like Canada, the UK, New Zealand, and Ireland, are a 4 and many Scandinavian countries are a 3. Countries like Poland and Hungary are a 6.), but the United States is nothing like a “third world” country when it comes to infant mortality. We’re far lower than the world average.

The other  — larger — problem with this argument, is that infant mortality is not a measure of maternity care, it is a measure of pediatric care. It covers babies from birth through a year of age. The correct statistic to use is perinatal mortality, which is through 27 days of life. So how does US perinatal mortality measure up?

Have a gander. I used the data from the list of countries that the World Bank considers “high income or developed” to make my graph (I left out Trinidad and Tobago, as the World Bank has given them an asterisk and their PMR is significantly higher than all other nations on the list including, of course, the United States):

The US has numbers equal to or better than 18 of the 31 nations, including Great Britain, France, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, etc. In the category of perinatal mortality, the US does much better in comparison to the rest of the developed world than they do with infant mortality. Again, there is always room for improvement when it comes to death rates, but it is a flat out lie that the United States is on par with developing nations in this regard.

49 thoughts on “Friday Fallacy: The US Infant Mortality Rate is Worse than that of the “Third World”

  1. Even better is how some of the countries wih BETTER stats have much higher CS rates. (Italy, S. Korea) The countries with the most home births are the worst.
    But you wont hear them talk about this fact.

    The 1yr rate is a little low because of INEQUALITY. Not modern medicine.

  2. Sammy, unless you’ve read and analyzed the damn study, WHY are you referencing it here? Do you expect Heather to make your points FOR YOU? Are you really that mentally lazy?

  3. Sammy, an ad hominem attack is when you respond to the argument by criticizing the opponent. Since, at this point, you haven’t even MADE an argument (other than, did you see this piece on the web that I can’t even be bothered to look up and analyze for myself?), my complaint that your post is pointless and damn near contentless can hardly be described as an ad hominem attack.

    Under the circumstances my closing question still stands.

    And, BTW, when have I ever interacted with you before? To my memory, I have had no conversations with “sammy.”

  4. Also, we are not comparing apples to apples. Not all countries define things the same way. A 24 weeker in the US who dies is counted while The Netherlands, etc don’t begin counting until 26 weeks and some “third world” countries, 28 weeks is stretching it. Think this is insignificant? Think again!

  5. The fallacy that this post was addressing, Sammy, was the claim of many people (such as yourself, no?) that the U.S. has worse neonatal/infant/insert-whatever-statistic-you-want death rates than *most other industrialized countries* and worse even than *some developing countries.* THAT is the fallacy, that we’re the worst among our peers and as bad as the low achievers. You saying how there are 40 countries (out of how many, Sammy? Can you count? Really, I want to know) that do better than the U.S. is totally irrelevant to the point Heather is making in this post. Can we do better? Sure. Are we really doing as horribly as you and your NCB brethren want to scare people into believing? Heck no. Let’s ask the question, then, why are we doing *better* than many of our peers, and *much better* than the developing nations? It is because of MODERN MEDICINE, OBSTETRICS AND PEDIATRICS that lives are saved that would otherwise be lost in those other places. Shame on you, Sammy. Your “arguments” and “corrections” are not only irrelevant and aggravating to the intelligent reader, but they are also laughably poorly-constructed. Want to see what an ad-hominem attack looks like? Here ya go. Sammy is sorely lacking in reading comprehension skills, the ability to synthesize information, and basic logic. Of course, she probably cannot help this being the product of a substandard educational system. Perhaps dolts like Sammy would be better off today if they had been properly schooled, and if our population in general were brought up with science and mathematics and logic rather than this ridiculous woo and anti-intellectualism, then the statistics that Sammy likes to complain about would be even better than they currently are. Sadly, ignorant people like Sammy try to make a difference, and they do make a difference– for the worse. People die because of misinformation. People are confused by spurious claims. And people are annoyed by Sammy.

    Now THAT’S an ad-hominem, you heifer.

    • I love that she’s obsessed with whether or not someone is guilty of ad hominem while she herself participates in numerous and constant logical fallacies. She has to call people out on their supposed logical fallacies to draw attention away from her not having a damn clue what she is arguing about, making no cogent arguments, adding nothing of value to the conversation etc.

  6. I see a lot of hippie/natural/crunchy types flip out every time something like this comes out. “We have a higher death rate on X than 30 other countries!” “Americans have a shorter lifespan than people in 28 other countries!” “It clearly means modern medicine is doing it all wrong!”

    …except there are something like 200+ countries out there, and if you’re in the top 50, the “shorter life span” is measured in months. That higher death rate is measured in a rate less than 1 per 1000. As you start going down the scale, the level of badness begins to jump up dramatically once you get to countries that ACTUALLY don’t use a lot of modern medicine and obstetrical interventions.

    Health reporting has become so terrible. I read some piece of tripe the other day on CNN where they gave some idiot an entire article on his “brilliant” plan to prevent heart attacks, if only we lazy decadent greedy pig Americans would follow it and be like – I swear – the Papua New Guinea highlanders, rural Chinese, central Africans and the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. He says we should never eat meat, eggs, dairy, or added oils, and we can be just like them and never have heart attacks! No where in the article was it mentioned that the average life expectancy of all of these groups whose “healthy diet” he so praises is UNDER 60 YEARS OF AGE.

    So yes, if you read a report on CNN that says “The US is lagging in infant mortality!” you really can’t take it at face value. News outlets need to seriously look at their health reporting departments.

    • So well put! Applause!! People can’t get the “Amerka is # one!!yee haaw!” out of their heads. It’s ok to be in the top ranks. We are not falling into third world poverty and medical care.

  7. One of my facebook friends posted the article by MSNBC the other day and was all up in arms because her son was induced at 36 weeks (don’t know why) and it’s because of the ebil doctors inducing women early that we have a higher death rate than Qtar.

    • The entire reason the US infant mortality rate is being spoken of as being “worse than Qatar’s!” in a sort of horrified tone is because of racism, basically – in which it is assumed that since Qatar is some foreign country full of Ay-rabs they must be doing terribly, and now, OH NO WE ARE DOING WORSE THAN THEM. Actually Qatar is a rich oil-based monarchy and has a good health care system, and is very, very small so its numbers probably don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.
      Only about 1.6 million people live in Qatar – less than in many large US cities – and 2/3s of them are male because of a huge population of immigrant workers to the oil industry. So the sample size of all women is well under 1 million, and certainly not all are of child bearing age.
      Qatar also has free public health care available to all, citizen or no. It is well-established that access to prenatal care leads to good outcomes for infants.
      Qatar is among the world’s wealthiest countries. Rich people are less likely to have health problems in general, and richer women are less likely to have problems during pregnancy.
      The continued repetition in the press that “The US has a higher death rate than Qatar!” as if it is shocking just shows how ignorant and lazy journalism has become. I easily found all this information in under 10 minutes on the web.

  8. That people get all riled up over Qatar having a high standard of living and good health among its citizens (nay, EVERYONE within its borders!) just shows that they are 1. racist and 2. they need to take a geography class (or at least consult wikipedia!) and understand that not every “non-western” country is a “third-world” country.

  9. Just a small correction to your last paragraph, that I have to mention as a Finn: Finland has slightly better rates than the US, not equal or worse. I think you probably meant Estonia, which is just above Finland on the graph and has worse rates than the US.

    Now that that’s out of the way… I find if interesting that out of the countries on the graph that have the highest rates, at least the Netherlands and UK also have high homebirth rates. Several of the remaining countries are economically less developed than most Western European and North American countries. I’m very surprised about the high rate in Denmark though. Anyone have any knowledge onthe causes for it?

  10. I’m sorry to leave an off-topic comment, but I couldn’t find another way to contact the blog authors. Is there a way to subscribe to this blog as an RSS? If so, what is the address? You might want to make it more prominent on the site itself for those of us who read our blogs from one central location. Thanks and keep up the great work!

  11. ‘We’re in the same basic category as all of Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia…’
    Um sorry but not all of Europe, only some. Australia has better rates then the US. Im suprised you used such a term given how dedicated you are to specific use of data. I am too and in Australia we have better rates then the US, lets all be clear on that.

    • She said “In the same basic catcategory”….as in we are all within the same color group on the map. And then she posted a chart that showed that Aussie had a little bit better rate then the US. Would you like a sticker for snapping at her with information she actually published?

      • Sure, why not. And it wasn’t a snap it was a quote. The US has worse data then Australia, even if you only see it as ‘a little bit better’ its still better. And why get upset? This site is all about using accurate data and making sure numbers get read as they are. Im the same so whats the problem? Its just like saying the home-birth neonatal death rate and the hospital neonatal death rate are basically the same, its just a few digits difference. A few numbers difference can be a big deal.

          • No your right it’s not. I just feel that the country that spends the most amount on health care out of all 1st world countries could do a lot better. Its hard to but into the obstetric system you bang on about when the reality is that system is only available to those who have health care cover and can afford it.

  12. Jan, I am also in AU. My husband is from the US, and I thereby consider myself well-versed in the difference between the healthcare systems.
    As an Aussie, I’m sure you can appreciate that it is our OMG SOSHALIZED healthcare system that is likely responsible for the minor discrepancy in infant mortality, and therefore the difference is irrelevant to the point of the post. It’s certainly not due to the fact that we are have a veritable glut of (very public) crunchy birthing ‘goddesses’ here – if it was, that discrepancy would matter 😉

  13. I think you are misreading the argument. No one ever said that the US has worst IM than the worst third world countries, or lower than an average third world country. Just that there are third world countries that have significantly better IM rates, which is true.

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