The country saw the largest increases in the mortality rate in decades among young kids and teenagers in 2020 and 2021, according to a research article released Monday.
Two researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and one from the University of Washington’s pediatrics and epidemiology department and Seattle Children’s Research Institute found that the U.S. mortality rate for people ages 1 to 19 rose by 10.7 percent from 2019 to 2020 and by 8.4 percent from 2020 to 2021.
Both increases were the largest in decades after a “great period” of declining pediatric child mortality rates.
Most of the increase came from older children, ages 10 to 19, but the rate also increased among children 1 to 10. Only infants younger than 1 did not have a significant increase in mortality during this time.
The researchers found that the increase was not strongly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic but a rise in injuries, which are defined as external causes of death such as transportation, firearms and poisoning. This type of fatality was tracked separately from the noninjury causes of death, which are internal, like diseases.
The COVID-19 mortality rate for individuals ages 1 to 19 was 0.24 deaths per 100,000 in 2020, but the absolute increase in deaths from injuries was 2.8 per 100,000, almost 12 times higher. The mortality rate for COVID-19 in this age group almost doubled in 2021 but only accounted for 20.5 percent of that year’s increase in mortality rate.
The researchers stated that the pandemic might have fueled already increasing rates of suicides and homicides.
The number of homicides among 10- to-19-year-olds increased by more than 39 percent from 2020 to 2021, while the number of deaths from drug overdoses for this group increased by 113.5 percent.
Meanwhile, transportation-related deaths for people 10 to 19 rose 15.6 percent in 2020 after years of falling.
Almost two-thirds of the increase in mortality of children ages 1 to 9 in 2021 were injury-related, in part driven by a 45.9 percent increase in deaths from fires and burns.
The researchers also found disparities based on the gender, race and ethnicity of the children. The increase in injury-related deaths in 2020 mostly came from males.
Non-Hispanic Black individuals made up almost two-thirds of the homicide deaths, while suicides among American Indian and Alaska Native youth 10 to 19 were twice as likely as those among non-Hispanic white individuals in that age group.
The researchers also found that firearms accounted for almost half of the increase in mortality for youth ages 1 to 19 in 2020.
They concluded that research and policy efforts are needed to address the causes of the increases, such as depression, suicide, opioid use, systemic racism, widening inequities and societal conflict. The researchers noted that children’s risk of not surviving until adulthood might rise if action is not taken.