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JAMA 100 Years Ago
September 17, 2003


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(11):1528. doi:10.1001/jama.290.11.1528

Those persons who are wont to strengthen a comfortable optimism by extracting sunshine from cucumbers have often urged the view that the high infant mortality that is so characteristic of city life in our time is, from the racial standpoint, not altogether deplorable. The specious argument runs that through the stress of environmental conditions the weaker individuals in each generation are eliminated during the period of infancy, and that, therefore, the adult population in those districts where infant mortality is high must be more vigorous than if the weaklings were able to develop to maturity. It has been asserted that in places having a high infant mortality, the mortality in succeeding years of childhood is actually lower, the average fitness of the male population for military service greater and tuberculosis less prevalent. Statistical evidence has been adduced in support of this view, especially by Oesterlen, who has maintained with a show of figures that those districts in Europe having a large death rate among infants exhibit a lower mortality during the succeeding years of childhood than do those countries in which the infant mortality is small. The implication is that a high death rate during the first months of infancy must in the long run benefit the race by weeding out the weaker and less fitted to survive. In some quarters fear has been expressed lest too great devotion to the task of preserving feeble infants may lead to a deterioration in the physique of future generations.