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Top Causes of Childhood Death in the U.S.

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While childhood death rates have improved over the decades, a significant number of childhood deaths still occur in the U.S. Among survivors of accidents and serious medical conditions, many children are forced to live with ongoing health problems. In the early 20th century, children under 5 comprised roughly 30 percent of all deaths in America. Today, only a fraction of that number die, due in large part to upgraded living standards, improved scientific knowledge, and advanced technology. A contributing factor to the reduction in deaths among children and infants is the enhanced treatments and management of premature births. In fact, the life expectancy of premature babies has improved dramatically from a century ago. Infection rates have also drastically declined, due primarily to enhanced sanitation and advancements in medication development. Despite all of this encouraging evidence as to higher survival rates, childhood death patterns in America can still be traced to age and location.

Leading Causes of Death for Babies

In modern times, pneumonia with influenza is one of the top ten causes of childhood mortality. However, specific causes of death are attributable to certain age groups. For example, Sudden Death Syndrome (SIDS) nears the top of fatal causes for infants, and SIDS predominantly affects two to four-month old infants. The leading causes of fatalities for infants are as follows:

For young children, the first year of life is most dangerous, as more children die during this period than in all other childhood years. Over half of all childhood deaths occur in the neonatal and postnatal period from prematurity, pregnancy complications, congenital defects, respiratory distress syndrome, SIDS, accidents, pneumonia, homicide, infections, oxygen deprivation, influenza, placental issues, umbilical cord problems, and membrane complications. Fewer die of inherited heart, brain and spinal defects. Rarer still are conditions like anencephaly, where a portion of the brain is missing, spina bifida, and nervous systems disorders, which are nearly always fatal, either immediately or within the first four years of life. Certain chromosomal defects may likewise result in death, but the top causes of neonatal death are low birth weight and prematurity.

Common Reasons Children Die in the Early Years

Beyond infancy, children between the ages of 1 and 5, and 5 to 9 have higher survival rates. This age group suffers primarily from accidents and intentional injuries. Accidents include car accidents, drowning, fire-related injuries, choking, and suffocation. Children ages 1 to 4, like infants, often die from congenital abnormalities and other diseases. For instance, cancer is the leading cause of death for children over 1, primarily leukemia, and cancers of the brain and central nervous system. Intentional injuries, such as homicide and suicide predominate in children ages 1 to 14. Tragically, guns lead homicide causes, and parents, caretakers, or acquaintances are the most common culprits for children ages 1 to 4.

Primary Causes of Death for Teenagers

As for older children and teens, accidental and self-inflicted injuries are the leading fatal causes. For teenagers, mortality rates are high for self-inflicted and unintentional causes, like smoking, drugs, alcohol, diet, and exercise. Additionally adult life-threatening illnesses, like cancer and cardiovascular disease, lead to numerous deaths in children and young adults.

Regarding older children, the mortality rates for adolescents ages 10 to 14 and 15 to 19 differ. Older teens having a higher death rate than younger ones. As one might expect, they die from accidents, which affect older adolescents more than younger ones due to the driving age, and they usually die as passengers. Older teens may have accidents from driving under the influence of alcohol. Homicide ranks third among death causes for 10 to 14-year-olds, followed by suicide, both by firearms. And the cancers suffered by this age group include leukemia, brain cancer, central nervous system cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the second leading cause being tumors and cancerous growths.

Trends Among Childhood Fatalities in the United States

Sadly, what children die of depends on where they live, whether rural or urban areas, higher or lower income and education brackets. For example, higher rates of childhood death occur to parents with lower education levels than higher. In the same manner, what the children die of is largely influenced by where they die. Over half of children’s deaths occur in hospitals, followed by outpatient hospital sites. It also depends on their age. Most neonatal deaths occur in the hospital after birth, with the notable exception being SIDS deaths, which occur at home. Of the many who die in the hospital, a majority die in the Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Units, mostly of severe conditions, such as brain damage due to asphyxia or hypoxia (oxygen deprivation), infection, and traumatic injury. Other deaths are attributable to congenital disorders, neurological problems, cancer, respiratory illnesses, and immune deficits. Beyond the unthinkable and untreatable, some of these deaths are preventable.

What if my Child’s Death was Preventable in New Jersey?

Whether children die suddenly from injuries, die postnatally from low birth weight or congenital defects, or are in and out of hospitals for years before succumbing to death, there are some prevailing truths on this wholly devastating subject. While accidents and intentional acts often kill older children, and socioeconomic inequalities play a role in who and who does not survive childhood, most children die in hospitals, where doctors, nurses, and the entire healthcare team must be highly competent and sufficiently skilled to attend to this delicate population with overwhelming urgency. A missed diagnosis of childhood cancer or failing to properly prepare for premature birth can lead to life-long physical, cognitive, emotional, and developmental injuries, if not death. Similarly, failure to recognize a fetus in distress can lead to birth asphyxia and permanent brain damage, if not infant death.

Obstetric and pediatric practitioners must be on highest alert and prepared for emergencies, especially in pre, post, and neonatal care, where so many deaths occur immediately without proper intervention. When they fail to dedicate the time and attention to your child’s case, lack the critical knowledge and skills to render appropriate treatment, mistake or entirely miss the correct diagnosis, or otherwise make a mistake that constitutes medical negligence, take heart in the fact that you are not powerless. The law grants you and your loved ones certain rights, both to hold healthcare providers accountable for failing to provide adequate care, and to recover just compensation for the overwhelming losses resulting from your child’s case.

Questions about a Lawsuit for Child’s Death in NJ

If a doctor or other medical staff member failed to diligently monitor, respond to, or administer life-saving treatment to your child, contact our group of pediatric malpractice and wrongful death lawyers in New Jersey to discuss your case. You rely on healthcare professionals to live up to the professional standards that ensure your loved ones’ lives are not unnecessarily endangered, especially when they are vulnerable children. When you have questions regarding a claim for compensation against those responsible for your child’s death, call 866-708-8617. Consultations are free and available to you at any time.


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