Children born to mothers under the age of 30 are more likely to die in childhood than those born to older mums, suggests a report on child deaths in the UK.
The research, led by the Institute of Child Health at University College London (UCL) found young maternal age to be a risk factor, despite overall childhood mortality falling by 50 percent in the past 20 years.
Using UK death registration data between January 1980 and December 2010, the study assessed risk factors for child deaths by focusing on elements such as child injuries, birthweight and maternal age.
The research found that in England, Scotland and Wales, children born to mothers under the age of 30 accounted for an average of 397 more deaths per year than those born to mothers aged 30-34.
Deaths of children born to mothers under the age of 20 made up 3.8 percent of all child deaths up to the age of nine.
One of the biggest differences between mothers under 30 and their older counterparts was the number of infant deaths – aged from one month to one year – that were caused by the mother’s increased alcohol use, smoking and deprivation
Calls for policy change
While the current policy focuses on support for teenage first-time mothers, the report found that further support is needed for mothers of all ages. Ruth Gilbert, lead researcher and professor of clinical epidemiology at the UCL Institute of Child Health echoed this sentiment:
“Young maternal age at birth is becoming a marker of social disadvantage as women who have been through higher education and those with career prospects are more likely to postpone pregnancy until their 30s,” she said. “Universal policies are needed to address the disparities.”
Experts are urging the government to do more: “Disadvantage and maternal age are factors often associated with child deaths. The government has recognized the vulnerability of the children of teenage mothers and given these families extra help with parenting,” said Jill Rutter, head of policy and research at the Family and Childcare Trust.
Commenting on the “excellent results” of a Family Nurse Partnership project for first-time mothers under the age of 20, Rutter highlighted a desire to reach a wider range of first-time mothers:
“We would like the Family Nurse Partnership to be extended to take older mothers who need help.”
The study had other key findings. Although the figures are declining, injuries remain the biggest cause of childhood death, accounting for 31 percent of deaths in one to four-year-olds and 48 percent of deaths in 15 to 18 year olds between 1980 and 2010.
There was, however, no decline in deaths from intentional injury or self-harm over the 30-year- period.
Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics, expressed concern over these figures: “Injuries remain the biggest cause of child deaths but are declining, so we need to continue to build upon public policy interventions such as traffic calming,” she said, adding: “The lack of decline in intentional injuries calls for a concerted focus on reducing violence and self-harm in older children.”
According to the results of the study, up to 70 percent of children who die in the UK have chronic conditions such as epilepsy, cystic fibrosis or cancer. Although not necessarily the cause of their deaths, experts are calling for a greater focus on long-term care for these children.
Image credit: sean dreilinger, Flickr