Cover: The Social Determinants of Infant Mortality and Birth Outcomes in Western Developed Nations

The Social Determinants of Infant Mortality and Birth Outcomes in Western Developed Nations

A Cross-Country Systematic Review

Published in: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, v. 10, no. 6, June 2013, p. 2296-2335

Posted on rand.org Jun 1, 2013

by Daniel Kim, Adrianna Saada

Infant mortality (IM) and birth outcomes, key population health indicators, have lifelong implications for individuals, and are unequally distributed globally. Even among western industrialized nations, striking cross-country and within-country patterns are evident. We sought to better understand these variations across and within the United States of America (USA) and Western Europe (WE), by conceptualizing a social determinants of IM/birth outcomes framework, and systematically reviewing the empirical literature on hypothesized social determinants (e.g., social policies, neighbourhood deprivation, individual socioeconomic status (SES)) and intermediary determinants (e.g., health behaviours). To date, the evidence suggests that income inequality and social policies (e.g., maternal leave policies) may help to explain cross-country variations in IM/birth outcomes. Within countries, the evidence also supports neighbourhood SES (USA, WE) and income inequality (USA) as social determinants. By contrast, within-country social cohesion/social capital has been underexplored. At the individual level, mixed associations have been found between individual SES, race/ethnicity, and selected intermediary factors (e.g., psychosocial factors) with IM/birth outcomes. Meanwhile, this review identifies several methodological gaps, including the underuse of prospective designs and the presence of residual confounding in a number of studies. Ultimately, addressing such gaps including through novel approaches to strengthen causal inference and implementing both health and non-health policies may reduce inequities in IM/birth outcomes across the western developed world.

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