updated 10/15/2003 6:04:17 PM ET 2003-10-15T22:04:17

The U.S. infant mortality rate dropped to another record low in 2001, in part because of a decline in SIDS deaths, but is still higher than that of other industrialized countries, the government said Tuesday.

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The U.S. rate in 2001— the latest data available — fell to 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births from 6.9 the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The rate has declined 38 percent since 1983, when it was 10.9 per 1,000 live births. It has dropped to an all-time low in each of the last four years after a brief plateau in 1997 and 1998.

The 2001 decline was attributed largely to an 11 percent decline in deaths from sudden infant death syndrome, one of the three leading causes of infant death along with congenital malformations and low birth weight.

The CDC said SIDS declined because of public health campaigns that encourage mothers to take such steps as making their babies sleep on their backs.

Better infant medical care and other public health messages also contributed to the decline, CDC officials said.

Despite the improvements, the U.S. rate is more than twice that of other developed countries. In Sweden, for example, the rate was 3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000, the latest data available from the United Nations.

Experts say the difference is due in part to more premature births and poorer access to health care in poor communities in the United States.

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