The infant mortality rate in the United States increased more than in two decades last year.

Child mortality rates in the United States are on the rise. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show an almost 3% increase in infant mortality from 2021 to 2022, marking the largest annual increase recorded by the agency since 2002.

The total number of infant deaths and their frequency have multiplied over the past two decades. Indeed, both indicators had already increased from 2020 to 2021. However, according to Daniel Eli, the lead author of a new CDC report that reflects the year 2021 when significantly more children were born than the previous year (2020), which was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. An even greater increase in child mortality in 2022 "was somewhat unexpected," she says, given the decade-long trend of decline.

The infant mortality rate in 2022, at 5.6 per 1,000 live births, is the highest since 2018 (the rate was 5.42 in 2020, the lowest in the country's history). This ongoing trend is enough to cause concern among those studying infant and maternal health.

Among the top 10 causes of infant mortality in the United States, mortality rates increased for two: bacterial sepsis, or infection, and maternal complications. One of the questions raised by researchers was whether the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to access abortion, could have played a role in the recent increase. However, since "maternal complications" encompass a range of issues that can go wrong during pregnancy, says Eli, the data is not detailed enough to determine if any specific state policy on women's health has affected child mortality rates. Nonetheless, the report may spur further investigations into these potential connections, considering recent analysis establishing a link between state-level abortion restrictions and child mortality.

While child mortality rates remained relatively stable in most individual states, significant increases were observed in Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, and Texas. Nevada was the only state where a significant decline was observed.

To more closely monitor potential trends in child mortality, the CDC has also published preliminary data for the first quarter of 2023, which currently show persistently high levels. "Our biggest hope is that this is just a data error," says Eli.