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Child death rates analysed

15 July 2005

Child death rates analysed

A just published University of Otago study shows New Zealand’s childhood mortality rate has dropped, but differences in mortality rates between income groups remain.

The study, by the Department of Public Health at the Wellington School of Medicine, has appeared in the latest issue of Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Data from the New Zealand Census Mortality Study was used to track changes in child mortality rates between 1981 and 1999, according to socioeconomic status, during what was a period of considerable social and economic upheaval in New Zealand.

Overall the number of deaths in the one to fourteen year-old age group fell, with 744 deaths in the 1981-84 census period compared to 534 in the 1996-99 period.

During those same periods, deaths in the high income group fell from 32 per 100,000 to 18.9 per 100,000, while in the low income group the rate dropped from 45 per 100,000 to 29.4 per 100,000.

Research Fellow Dr Caroline Shaw says the figures show that despite the fall in mortality rates among all income groups, children in low income households were still considerably more at risk of dying than those in high income households.

There was some suggestion of an increase in the relative inequalities in child mortality by income between the early 1980s and late 1990s but, Dr Shaw adds, it was only of borderline significance statistically.

“The increase in inequalities can only be seen when measured on the basis of income, rather than other measures of socioeconomic position such as parents’ occupation or level of maternal education. However there was no decrease in the level of inequalities in child mortality by any measure over this time period.”

She says the gap between rich and poor in childhood mortality mirrors a similar gap in adult mortality.

“Policy makers need to consider inequalities in child mortality, in addition to adult mortality, when designing and implementing policies that impact on the socioeconomic determinants of health.”


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