A recent study in the journal Health Affairs had some dismal news for U.S. children: They have a 70 percent greater chance of dying before they reach adulthood than their peers in comparable developed nations. While child death rates in the United States are still much lower than they were 50 years ago, children still face unique risks that resulted in an estimated 600,000 preventable deaths from 1961 to 2010.
Why is the United States so exceptionally dangerous for children? The report suggests that there are three primary groups of U.S. children at risk: children of all ages who die in car crashes, teenagers killed by guns and babies who die before their first birthday.
The first group—representing about 1,000 children younger than 13 per year—is both the least complex and the most difficult to change. Passage or stricter enforcement of laws requiring that children be properly restrained in cars may help, as roughly 20 percent of child deaths in car accidents occur in situations where the victims are not wearing a seatbelt or in a safety seat. Also, about 20 percent of child deaths in car accidents are related to drunk driving, and any interventions to reduce drunk driving will also help to reduce child deaths related to the same. But Americans will continue to make most trips by car as long as our government subsidizes highways and encourages sprawl with all sorts of housing-related restrictions. As long as we are driving fast everywhere, we are going to keep getting into accidents, and it is not going to be easy to dramatically shift where we live and how we get around.
In the second group, there are 1,000 or more children who are killed by guns every year in the United States. Incidents such as the mass shooting at a high school in Florida on Feb. 14 are depressingly common, but gun deaths from suicide are now even more common than those from homicide.