Injuries At Home Cause Most Childhood Deaths

Black children twice as likely as whites to die from those injuries, study says

TUESDAY, Aug. 2, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- Most deaths of children are due to preventable injuries suffered at home. And though the number of deaths has declined in recent years, accidents in the home are still the most common cause of childhood death, researchers report.

What's more, black children are twice as likely to suffer a home-related death compared to white children, the researchers report in a new study that appears in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"There are, on average, some 2,800 children under the age of 18 that die each year from preventable injuries in their homes," said study co-author Dr. Kieran J. Phelan, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. "To reduce these deaths, there needs to be development of health-based standards for housing," he added.

In their study, Phelan and his colleagues collected data on the death rate of children younger than 20 from 1985 to 1997. During that period, there was an average of 2,822 unintentional deaths of children each year in U.S. homes; these accounted for 55 percent of all such deaths occurring during that time.

The number of yearly deaths decreased by about 22 percent over the period, but deaths among black children remained twice as high as those of white children, the researchers found.

The highest death rates in homes were from fire, drowning or suffocation and falls. "A large proportion of these deaths are the result of children being exposed to unsafe environments that are hazardous to young children," Phelan said.

To reduce the number of deaths, Phelan believes certain steps need to be taken. "We need to develop health-based standards for housing," he said. "These include designs in new and renovated housing that help prevent falls, lead poisoning, or asthma."

The high rates of deaths among black children is probably due to inferior housing, Phelan said. "It's probably a proxy for lower socioeconomic status, which is a marker for being exposed to older, substandard housing," he said. "There is greater window access, fire risks and dilapidated stairways."

One expert believes these findings are only part of the picture of childhood injury and death, and could result in pursuing wrong prevention initiatives.

"The findings are important and add to our understanding of pediatric injury but they [the researchers] only considered injuries resulting in deaths. Therefore, we should not jump to conclusions about leading causes of injury," said Barbara A. Morrongiello, a child psychologist at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

"Many injuries occur that result in hospitalization that would not be considered here," she added.

For example, the finding that poison-related deaths of teens increased over this period raises the need to distinguish between suicide and unintentional injuries. How one counts these deaths can distort prevention efforts, Morrongiello said.

"Had these deaths been coded as suicides, it would promote suicide-prevention initiatives," she noted. "However, coding these as unintentional injuries leads to different prevention strategies. To the extent we are erroneously coding these events, therefore, we may be missing the mark with our prevention efforts."

More information

For more on making your home safe, visit the Nemours Foundation.

SOURCES: Kieran J. Phelan, M.D., assistant professor, pediatrics, Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati; Barbara A. Morrongiello, Ph.D., child psychologist, University of Guelph, Ontario; August 2005 Pediatrics
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