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J Epidemiol Community Health. 2003 May;57(5):344-6.

Infant mortality rate as an indicator of population health.

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  • 1School of Health Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia.



The infant mortality rate (IMR) has been criticised as a measure of population health because it is narrowly based and likely to focus the attention of health policy on a small part of the population to the exclusion of the rest. More comprehensive measures such as disability adjusted life expectancy (DALE) have come into favour as alternatives. These more comprehensive measures of population health, however, are more complex, and for resource poor countries, this added burden could mean diverting funds from much needed programmes. Unfortunately, the conjecture, that DALE is a better measure of population health than IMR, has not been empirically tested.


IMR and DALE data for 1997 were obtained from the World Bank and the World Health Organisation, respectively, for 180 countries.


There is a strong (generally) linear association between DALE and IMR (r=0.91). Countries with low DALE tend to have a high IMR. The countries with the lowest IMRs had DALEs above that predicted by the regression line.


There is little evidence that the use of IMR as a measure of population health has a negative impact on older groups in the population. IMR remains an important indicator of health for whole populations, reflecting the intuition that structural factors affecting the health of entire populations have an impact on the mortality rate of infants. For countries with limited resources that require an easily calculated, pithy measure of population health, IMR may remain a suitable choice.

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