- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Americans are killing each other and themselves less often, and the rate at which AIDS and cancer do them in has dropped. Thus the U.S. death rate has hit a record low.
What’s more, Americans are, on average, living 76.7 years, another record. And for the first time since 1990 the U.S. birth and fertility rates increased.
True the longevity gain is tiny. People are living just 0.2 percent longer now than they were last year, but the increase reflects a steady series of gains.
The U.S. birth rate struggled to 14.6 births per 1,000 population, up from 14.5, the record low of two years ago. The fertility rate increased a scant 1 percent to 65.6 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, but the rise ends a series of declines.
“The numbers show us that our public health policies are paying off,” said Dr. Bernard Guyer of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. His research team gleaned and analyzed the 1998 statistics from birth certificates, fetal death reports and death certificates of U.S. residents. The resulting article appeared yesterday in “Pediatrics,” the publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Guyer, the article’s principal author, said in an interview yesterday, “This is the 50th year an article revealing this data has been published. In that time the improvements they point to are spectacular. Particularly the decreases in child and infant deaths show we’re reaping the fruits of many improvements.”
In 1950 the U.S. death rate was 8.4, meaning more than eight persons died for every 1,000 individuals in the population. That figure fell to 5.9 in 1980, 5.2 in 1990, and now it is 4.7. By comparison the most recent figures for the different years show Germany’s death rate was 10.8 in 1996 and Great Britain’s was 10.7 in 1997. That year Japan’s rate was 7.3.
Statistically, the slide in the U.S. death rate comes from declines of 21 percent in deaths from AIDS, 14 percent in homicides, 6 percent in suicides, 5 percent in accidents and 2 percent in cancer.
“Certainly, there is reason to cheer. Yet there is cause for caution too. In general we see the various rates hitting plateaus, when we should anticipate consistent improvement,” says Dr. Guyer.
He points out that in his report that, “The United States is in the unenviable position of having one of the highest infant mortality rates among developed countries, along with the highest birth rate.”
The infant mortality rate was 7.2 per 1,000 live births last year. That ties the record low of 1997 and represents a 40 percent decrease in deaths since 1980. But Sweden, for example, has a rate of 3.6, Japan 3.7 and Germany 4.9.
With a rate of 4.3 deaths per 1,000, New Hampshire has the lowest infant mortality rate in the United States. At 13.2 the District has the worst rate and Mississippi the next worst at 10.6.
Significantly, the study reports the number and rate of multiple births has climbed once more. The 104,137 twins born between 1996 and 1997 represents a one-year, 3 percent rise. But since 1980, the rate has climbed 52 percent.
The number of triplets and “other higher order multiple births” leaped 16 percent in the 1996-1997 period and 404 percent in the last 20 years. In 1980 there were 1,337 such births. Last year there were 6,737.
“I think the information regarding multiple pregnancies is very important. Many of the multiple births end in deaths. This issue needs attention,” Dr. Guyer said.

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