The Politics of Infant Mortality?


A controversial study was published recently that aimed to investigate the possible effects that politics could have on maternal and child health.  What they found was both unsurprising and disturbing.  According to researchers at the University of Michigan, the party affiliation of the President has an effect on the rate of infant mortality in the United Sates.  Researchers gathered data about infant mortality rates from 1965-to 2010, and found that whenever the President in power was a Democrat, the rates for infant mortality were lower than average, and higher than average when the President was a Republican.  Researchers found that this pattern held true for both neonatal mortality and post neonatal mortality. In addition, party affiliation seemed to have more of a significant effect on African-Americans than Whites.

There have been some critiques of the article, with one researcher suggesting that they did not use appropriate statistical methods.   In addition, the researchers themselves admitted that there could be other factors that influence the relationship they found.  What is critical to note is that party affiliations can have an affect on social determinants of health, depending on what laws are established or revoked that may aid or hinder Title X or non-profit women’s health organizations.  Whether the party affiliation has a direct causal relationship remains a controversial topic.

Infant Mortality in the US

Regardless of what has been through empirical research, it is a fact that the United States is not faring well in terms of infant mortality.  Overall, the United States is ranked 174 in terms of infant mortality rates. This may not seem too bad, but out of all the industrialized countries (34 countries), the United States is ranked 26.  For public health professionals, this news is not surprising but frustrating. Add in the fact that the politics may have a much more statically relevant effect on infant mortality, and things could get that much more complicated.

There have also been some decisions made during past Presidencies that could have (or had) potential affects on infant mortality. Decisions made during Presidencies include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • 1993: President Clinton (D)
    • Repeals Title X gag rule
    • FDA approves new birth control options for women
    • Congress enacts FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances)
  • 2001: President George Bush II (R)
    • Imposes global gag rule that had been repealed during Clinton’s administration
    • Funding to programs who focused on promoting women’s health were decreased
    • Information was censored on websites. An example was the censorship of condom information from the Health and Human Services website.
  • 2009: President Obama (D)
    • Affordable Care Act
    • Repeal of global gag rule (again)
    • Birth control Plan B becomes readily available over the counter

Although the statistical methods conducted by the researchers at the University of Michigan may be up for debate, history provides compelling evidence that party affiliation has been following a certain trend regarding women’s health, infant/child health, and reproductive health for at least the past two decades.


If the results of this study begin to be replicated by other researchers, what could be the implications of their findings?  What could we as the public do knowing that the party affiliation of the next president in power could potentially lead to more babies dying before they even have a chance to live?  Although the popular media is beginning to publish more news related to infant mortality, what could potentially happen if these findings turn out to be credible (and replicable). Would the United States be prepared for the potential public outcry that could occur?   Babies-of-different-races

What’s your opinion? The link to the news article and the original journal article are below!




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