Birth weight-specific causes of infant mortality, United States, 1980

J W Buehler, L T Strauss, C J Hogue, J C Smith
Public Health Reports 1987, 102 (2): 162-71
To describe underlying causes of infant death by birth weight, we used data from the 1980 National Infant Mortality Surveillance project and aggregated International Classification of Diseases codes into seven categories: perinatal conditions, infections, congenital anomalies, injuries, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), other known causes, and nonspecific or unknown causes. Compared with heavier infants, infants with birth weights of 500-2,499 grams (g) are at increased risk of both neonatal and postneonatal death for virtually all causes. Sixty-two percent of neonatal deaths (under 28 days of life) were attributed to "conditions arising in the perinatal period," as defined using codes from the International Classification of Diseases. Prematurity-low birth weight and respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) were the leading causes of such deaths among infants with birth weights of 500-2,499 g, while birth trauma-hypoxia-asphyxia and other perinatal respiratory conditions were the leading causes among heavier infants. For all birth weight groups, congenital anomalies were the second leading cause, representing 27 percent of neonatal deaths. Although perinatal conditions caused nearly one-third of postneonatal deaths (28 days to under 1 year of life) among infants with birth weights of 500-1,499 g, for the other birth weight groups these conditions were much less important; predominant causes of postneonatal death were sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), congenital anomalies, infections, and injuries. Black infants had a roughly twofold higher risk of neonatal and postneonatal death than did white infants for all causes except congenital anomalies, which occurred with almost equal frequency in blacks and whites. However, for infants with birth weights of 500-2,499 g, blacks had lower risks of neonatal death from RDS and congenital anomalies. Between 1960 (the latest year for which national birth weight-specific mortality statistics had been available) and 1980, SIDS emerged as a major diagnostic rubric. Otherwise, except for infections and congenital anomalies among infants with birth weights of 500-1,499 g, all causes of death declined in frequency among all birth weight groups.

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