STUMP » Articles » Causes of Childhood Death (and Dickens) » 3 February 2015, 15:48

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Causes of Childhood Death (and Dickens)  


3 February 2015, 15:48

Don’t worry, I’m not going to embed that Nationwide ad. I’ve not even seen it, only seen it described

The insurance giant on Monday was still getting social media blowback over its Super Bowl commercial about a cute kid who comes back from the grave to warn about childhood accidents and the need to prevent the leading cause of death for kids.

So let’s look at what the primary cause of death for kids is:

car accidents

Nationwide says more than 9 million kids per year end up in emergency rooms as a result of accidental injuries — and about 9,000 die.

Yes, and what are the most fatal ones associated with?

car accidents

(yes, unintentional poisonings are more numerous — but that’s not kids getting into the antifreeze, it’s usually adults overdosing on drugs or alcohol)

It doesn’t help when you go to a CDC table like this and see unintentional injuries

For those who didn’t click through, here’s the childhood portion:

I’m not sure how “benign” neoplasms can kill. (Malignant neoplasms are otherwise known as cancer)

Anyway, those are supposed to be actual numbers. Unintentional injuries can mean getting killed because you’re a dumbass kid and you jumped off the roof. Or it can mean you were in a car accident.

Notice the numbers for unintentional injuries for kids age 5 – 14 are a lot less than the surrounding ages – unfortunately, these are counts, not rates. So let’s go to the rates!

CDC reports on Causes of Death by Age, Race, and Sex — let’s just use the report for 2013.

I’m not going to get into this a huge deal, but this has more detail, and will show that uptick in suicides for teenagers is mostly boys. Mostly white boys, come to think of it.

At a first level, 5% of deaths in 2013 were from accidents (of all sorts) for all ages. I will quit referring to the year for right now. That’s 40.8 deaths per 100,000 in population.

Let’s look at the youngest age group — age 1 – 4, and see how the stats can be misleading:

Accidental deaths are 32.4% of toddler deaths! At a rate of 8.3 deaths per 100,000 toddlers. Note: that accidental death rate is a lot lower than the accidental death rate at all ages.

Let me make a graph:

Huh. Looks like kids have the lowest accidental death rate.

You know that accidental deaths are also the highest cause of death for all age groups up to the age of 45? At 45, cancer and heart disease, the top causes of death overall, overtake accidental death as the primary cause.

I’m not saying that childhood deaths are not tragic or should not be prevented, but the last thing we need is more things to freak out parents (says the mother of three under-12 kids). The reason accidental deaths stand out so much, is, of course, so few kids die.

Look at the death rate of seniors due to accidents – it’s phenomenally high. But so much else is killing off old folks. While the death rate due to accidental injuries is highest in the 80-84 age range (they don’t do it for the 85+ crowd, because they don’t have enough people), it’s the eighth highest cause of deaths for them. Above accidents are: heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases (I’m assuming emphysema), stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and flu/pneumonia.

The reason accidental deaths for children is so shocking is because death for children as a whole is so infrequent. U.S. child deaths are at the lowest rate in history, because they’re not dying from diseases that used to kill off whole swathes of kids! And you don’t have them wasting away because they’re too poor to get food. Quite the opposite.

So let me end with a little light-hearted (snort) stab at Dickens, who loved to kill off child characters for all the pathos it’s worth. He wasn’t unusual for a Victorian, what with their morbid streak, but they had good cause. People would drop dead from all sorts of things, and if you were an urban urchin, your life expectancy wasn’t high. Especially in a Dickens novel.

The fate of Jo the Crossing Sweeper in Bleak House:

When he falls ill, presumably from pneumonia [actually, smallpox], you desperately hope he will recover, as the book’s heroine does, but Dickens bleakly kills him off.

No wonder that when a stage adaptation was made of Bleak House, the subtitle was Poor Jo.

But the book’s heroine was well-taken care of. Well-fed, given the best care available at the time as she had a rich benefactor. Jo was underfed, dirty, and generally mistreated. He had no chance.

I’m in the middle of re-reading The Old Curiousity Shop by Dickens, which has the most famous child death of all Dickens’ novels. She actually dies “off stage”, but I’ve already had the first death – of a little child. Part of Oscar Wilde’s famous quote on the death of Little Nell:

One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.

In my case, it’s not laughing but GET ON WITH DYING ALREADY.

I think Little Nell does die of pneumonia or tuberculosis – she was ill fed, tired, and trying to escape various villainous characters as well as keep her grandfather from his own person demon, gambling. I don’t really recommend the book, except for two reasons: Sally Brass and Quilp.

But I will write about them another time.

Anyway, yes, most child deaths are from accidental causes — but so are most deaths of everybody under the age of 45. I don’t want to push childhood up to middle age, thank you very much. Let’s not give Obama any ideas.

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