CHICAGO -- Contrary to medical thinking, low-birthweight newborns in the United States die at rates similar to those in other developed countries with far fewer resources for at-risk infants, a study found.
The researchers compared newborn death rates by weight with those in Canada, Australia and Britain, which all devote comparatively more medical resources to prenatal care than to intensive newborn care.
The results suggest that U.S. medical resources could be more evenly distributed with potentially better outcomes, the researchers said.
"The U.S. spends far more on sick babies and less on preventing sick babies and still isn't improving survival compared to these other countries we looked at," said lead researcher Dr. Lindsay Thompson of Dartmouth Medical School. "It was disappointing."
The study in June's Pediatrics follows research by another Dartmouth team published last month suggesting that medical advances have contributed to a U.S. glut of neonatologists -- specialists in intensive care of at-risk newborns, including premature and low-birthweight babies. That study found similar newborn death rates across the United States, even in areas with comparatively few neonatologists.
Thompson's study is based on a review of data from 1993 to 2000, including newborn death rates in 1997. The overall U.S. newborn mortality rate that year was 4.7 per 1,000 births, compared with 3.8 per 1,000 in England and Wales, 3.7 per 1,000 in Canada and three per 1,000 in Australia.