Death rate for preschool children in UK almost double that of Sweden

Researchers found 614 deaths per 100,000 of under-fives in UK compared with 328 in Sweden, with social inequalities partly to blame for difference

The death rate among preschool children in the UK is almost double that of Sweden, with social inequalities being partly to blame, according to researchers.

A study, published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, compared the UK with Sweden because the Scandinavian country has one of the lowest child death rates, a measure considered by Unicef to be a barometer of children’s health.

Sweden also has levels of economic and social development comparable with the UK, free healthcare at the point of access and spends the same proportion of GDP – about 8% – on healthcare.

The researchers found there were 614 deaths per 100,000 of the under-fives population in the UK, compared with 328 in Sweden. The primary causes of death in the UK were problems associated with premature birth, congenital abnormalities, and infections, with the mortality rate for the first of these factors being 13 times higher than in Sweden.

The study’s co-author Imti Choonara, emeritus professor at Nottingham University’s academic unit of child health, said: “The major cause of death is prematurity, and social economic inequalities are one of the causes [of prematurity]. A society with large inequalities inevitably results in worse health outcomes.”

The paper, published on Thursday, emphasised that the high mortality rate from prematurity in the UK – 138.5 per 100,000 preschool children compared with 10.1 in Sweden – was not a reflection of the quality of neonatal intensive care but of “the adverse social determinants of health in the UK that result in a large number of preterm births”. The premature birth rate has remained stable in Sweden while it has been rising in the UK.

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