Background: Concern is growing that mortality and health in children and young people in the UK lags behind that of similar countries.
Methods: We analysed death registry data provided to the WHO Mortality Database to compare UK mortality for children and young people aged 0-24 years with that of European Union member states (before May, 2004, excluding the UK, plus Australia, Canada, and Norway [the EU15+ countries]) from 1970 to 2008 using the WHO World Mortality Database. We grouped causes of death by Global Burden of Disease classification: communicable, nutritional, or maternal causes; non-communicable disorders; and injury. UK mortality trends were compared with quartiles of mortality in EU15+ countries. We used quasi-likelihood Poisson models to explore differences between intercepts and slopes between the UK and the EU15+ countries.
Findings: In 1970, UK total mortality was in the best EU15+ quartile (<25th centile) for children and young people aged 1-24 years, with UK infant mortality similar to the EU15+ median. Subsequent mortality reductions in the UK were smaller than were those in the EU15+ countries in all age groups. By 2008, total mortality for neonates, infants, and children aged 1-4 years in the UK was in the worst EU15+ quartile (>75th centile). In 2008, UK annual excess mortality compared with the EU15+ median was 1035 deaths for infants and 134 for children aged 1-9 years. Mortality from non-communicable diseases in the UK fell from being roughly equivalent to the EU15+ median in 1970 to the worst quartile in all age groups by 2008, with 446 annual excess deaths from non-communicable diseases in the UK (280 for young people aged 10-24 years) in 2008. UK mortality from injury remained in the best EU15+ quartile for the study period in all age groups.
Interpretation: The UK has not matched the gains made in child, adolescent, and young adult mortality by other comparable countries in the 40 years since 1970, particularly for infant deaths and mortality from non-communicable diseases, including neuropsychiatric disorders. The UK needs to identify and address amenable social determinants and health system factors that lead to poor health outcomes for infants and for children and young people with chronic disorders.
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