Poor children more likely to die than their rich peers

Children from lower-income households are more likely to die than those from medium- or high-income families, a study has revealed.

Researchers looking into socio-economic factors in child mortality examined the cases of about 2250 children who died between 1981 and 1999.

The paper by the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, was published in the NZ Medical Journal this week.

"Children living in deprived circumstances are more likely to die in all areas, except for cancer," said Dr Caroline Shaw.

The paper highlighted the need to address the factors that put children at risk, including traffic safety, quality of rental housing and fencing round homes.

"And, of course, no child [should be] living in poverty, so income levels for people living on benefits may need to be looked at," Dr Shaw said.

The higher death rate of children from low-income households was seen most strongly in accidents - burns, poisoning and drownings.

This was followed by a combination of "other" causes of death - such as disease and asthma - and traffic injuries.

These two sectors made up about 80 per cent of child deaths.

Deaths from congenital causes were also tied to socio-economic levels.

Cancer was the only death-related cause not affected by socio-economic factors.

Dr Shaw said the number of deaths from suicide and murder was small and, apart from cancer, was the only category where medium-income households dominated.

But the numbers were so small it was not possible to find a substantial trend in that field, and international evidence showed that the lower the income, the more likely children would feature in murder or suicide rates, she said.

Associate Professor Tony Blakely said the study also raised fresh questions about how to pinpoint social policy.

Addressing poverty might help, he said, but there were deaths in the "other" category that might make it difficult to determine how best to focus policy initiatives.


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