The Guardian newspaper is reporting this morning that child mortality from trauma and sudden death is rising sharply in England and that poverty is largely to blame.
According to the paper’s science correspondent Hannah Devlin:
The analysis, which tracked all child deaths in England between 2019 and 2022, found overall mortality dipped during the pandemic due to a decrease in infectious illnesses, but that numbers of deaths have since returned to pre-pandemic levels.
This included a 32% increase in trauma deaths and a 13% rise in sudden unexpected death in infancy or childhood (Sudic) last year compared with pre-pandemic rates.
Prof Karen Luyt, the programme lead for the National Child Mortality Database, based at the University of Bristol, said the figures could be “the first mortality signal” from families struggling with the cost of living crisis.
“This is worrying and I think we’re likely to see things getting worse,” she said.
“Certainly for childhood illness and mortality, we know there’s a strong social gradient and we know that more families are now living in poverty.”
Sudic deaths are defined as being unexplained and unexpected at the point death is registered, but may be subsequently found to be due to cardiac arrest after infection or an asthma attack, for instance.
It is a broader category than sudden infant death syndrome (Sids), where the cause of death often remains a mystery even after postmortem examination.
Of the children who died in the Sudic category, four times as many came from the most deprived fifth of the population, compared with the least deprived fifth.
The findings cover a period up to March 2022 and Luyt said the team was projecting worse figures for the latest year, given high levels of infection this winter and growing cost of living pressures on families.
Prof Monica Lakhanpaul, at University College London, who has studied the effects of homelessness on child health, said the link between child mortality and poverty was well-established and described the latest figures as a “tragic” result of worsening inequalities.
“The poorer the children, the higher the risk of mortality, but nothing’s been done,” she said. “We’re in a high-income country and this is on our doorstep.”
Lakhanpaul said malnutrition and unheated homes left children in worse health and less able to fight off infection. And unsuitable accommodation was a growing problem that posed separate risks, she said.