JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer
Reiling, Assistant Editor.
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.
INFANT MORTALITY AND THE LAW OF NATURAL SELECTION. JAMA. 2003;290(11):1528. doi:10.1001/jama.290.11.1528
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