Utah bucking national trend in child deaths

May 19, 2023, 1:00 PM | Updated: 1:13 pm

Child deaths in Utah are bucking a national trend elsewhere....

Child care provider Holly Kingston gives children a snack at her home in West Jordan on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. Parents, children, educators, and supporters gathered at the Capitol for Child Care Day on the Hill. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Rates of child deaths in American have risen to the highest level in 15 years.

“Our children are now less likely to reach adulthood,” said Steven Woolf who led the analysis of federal death statistics published in JAMA in March.

Between 2019-2020, the mortality rate for children rose 10.7%. It rose another 8.3% the next year. That’s the highest increase in two consecutive years in a half-century.

What about Utah kids?

“We didn’t get that uptick in deaths overall or even just injury-related deaths,” said Nathan Malan, violence and injury prevention program epidemiologist and evaluator with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services. “We look at every child injury and child death that happens in the state to see if there are opportunities for prevention and to make sure death certificates are correct.”

This is not to say we don’t have any challenges in Utah.

We saw the largest number of suicides in Utah children in 2019. The numbers went down in 2020 and 2021, but then back up slightly in 2022.

“The majority of firearm deaths in children are suicides, so we saw an uptick in both,” Malan explained.

Is it the pandemic’s fault?

COVID-19 was not the direct cause of death for many young people, but researchers point to social disruption as a cause of several public health issues, especially among children. Malan says it’s hard to make those connections.

“There were concerns about social isolation and how that would impact suicide numbers. In 2020 and 2021, those numbers actually came down from the high in 2019.”

Another category where Utah has not mirrored the national average has been opioid deaths in children.

“There is probably some use of opioids in children in Utah, but we’re not seeing deaths from opioid use like they are in other states,” Malan explained. “The opioid deaths that we do see are in the adult population.”

The trend is good

For years, advances in healthcare and in safety features like bicycle helmets and car seats have greatly reduced the total number of deaths in children. Malan says this is an important point to remember.

“People think this is the worst time ever. We’re having all these suicides and motor vehicle deaths,” said Malan. “But the truth is we’ve been improving in so many areas for so long. Overall our childhood deaths have been coming down for a decade.”

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Utah bucking national trend in child deaths