Infants at Risk

Series on Health
July 1964

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The pattern of mortality changes as a community advances and matures. In under developed societies, mortality is greatest during the first five years of life. As the society develops, the greatest mortality occurs in the first year of life. In a community which has reached a high level of development, the main impact of mortality moves to old age.

Infant mortality concerns deaths amongst live-born babies in their first year. In 1962, there were 18,000 infant deaths in England and Wales. Numerically, and in terms of expectation of life, infant mortality involves a greater loss of potential than death at any other age. This study examines the historical picture and the present pattern of infant mortality in this country, and draws on international material to measure and assess the progress achieved and the task remaining.

During the late nineteenth century in England and Wales every sixth baby died before its first birthday. By the 1960s, infant mortality had fallen substantially, but still one infant in 50 died. Birth requires more rapid adaptation to new circumstances than any other event in an individual's life. A baby's survival and healthy growth depend not only on his genetic equipment, but also on other factors. These include whether he is the first or a later addition to the family, his mother's age, his father's occupation and their ability to make use of medical and social services provided for his welfare.

The close relations between infant mortality and social conditions has given the study of infant mortality a special place in social medicine. The infant mortality rate is generally accepted as an index which measures most sensitively the stages of economic and social growth. Yet, although this is broadly true, there are many aspects of the relationship between infant mortality and improving social and economic conditions which remain enigmatic.