Federal and state authorities are concerned about a continuing slowdown in the nation's efforts to reduce the infant mortality rate, it was reported Sunday.
The slowdown threatens to stabilize the U.S. mortality rate above the goal of nine deaths per 1,000 births that has already been bettered by six European nations and Japan. Officials said the trend indicates that the United States may have difficulties in reducing the number of deaths per 1,000 births to a goal of nine by 1990.
From 1965 to 1982, the percentage of U.S. infants who die at birth declined at a relatively constant rate, the New York Times said in a report on a new federal study by the U.S. Public Health Service. But, the study said, in 1982 and again in 1983, the mortality rate, while lower, did not drop as fast as in years past.
Public health experts gave several possible reasons for the slowdown, including limits in medical technology and restricted government spending on social welfare programs.
Dr. Edward N. Brandt Jr., former assistant secretary of health and human services, cited an "apparent reduction in the timely provision of prenatal care." He called the trend "disquieting" and "worrisome."
Meanwhile, the Southern Governors Assn. on Sunday released a separate report showing that infant mortality rates are running about 10% higher in the South than the U.S. national average. The association called for expanded federal support for prenatal and infant health care programs.
"Infant mortality statistics in the South paint a sad picture for a region that prides itself on strong family values, economic growth and fiscal stability," the report said.
Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris said: "The statistics show the problem is greater in the South than anywhere in the country."
The Public Health Service report said that the infant mortality rate nationwide dropped by about 4.2% a year from 1965 to 1982. But now, it said, the rate appears to be stabilizing at slightly less than 11 deaths for each 1,000 live births. In 1964, there were 24.7 deaths for each 1,000 live births.
The New York Times said the report, which has not yet been officially published but has been distributed to state health officials, noted that the mortality rate declined by only 2.7%, from 11.2 deaths per 1,000 births in 1982 to 10.8 in 1983.