Unintentional injuries are defined as bodily harm that results from accidental causes such as falls, motor vehicle accidents, drowning, electrocution, suffocation. Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for children ages 5–14. More than 5.5 million children from this age group also suffer nonfatal injuries requiring emergency room care (Burt & Fingerhut, 1998; CDC, 2004). Injuries requiring medical attention, or resulting in restricted activity, affect more than 20 million children and cost $17 billion annually for medical care (Danesco, Miller, & Spicer, 2000).
To reduce the incidence of future unintentional injuries, researchers focus on factors that identify which children are more likely to experience injury based on past statistics. Both internal and external variables place some children more at risk than others. Variables that contribute to increased injury rates in children include:
- Individual variables (e.g., age, gender, temperament, race/ethnicity)
- Behavioral variables (e.g., antisocial or conduct disorders)
- Risk-taking behavior (e.g., not wearing helmets or using seatbelts)
- Caregiver behaviors (e.g., level of parental supervision)
- Economic variables (e.g., income)
- Environmental variables (e.g., streets, playgrounds, neighborhoods)
- Sociocultural variables (e.g., crime rates, overcrowding) (Sleet & Mercy, 2003)
By identifying the individual and ecological characteristics of children who experience higher rates of injury, safety prevention programs can target populations who exhibit greater need.
Injury patterns appear to change over the life course and are closely related to developmental stage (Dahlberg & Potter, 2001). For example, there are high rates of injury in children ages 1–4, followed by a slight drop for children ages 5–9, then a sharp rise in injuries in children ages 10–14 that continues through adolescence and early adulthood. The increase in unintentional injuries, particularly in children ages 10–14 may, in part, be a result of children’s increased exposure to activities and environments outside the home. During this time in children’s lives, safety monitoring shifts from a reliance on parents/guardians in the home to reliance on self and others (e.g., peers, teachers, coaches).
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