In 2016, 20,360 children and teens died in the United States. And sixty-one percent of them died from preventable injuries, according to a new study by members of the University of Michigan Injury Prevention Center.
The study reports that the number one cause of death for youth between one and 19 years old was motor vehicle crashes, which accounted for more than 4,000 deaths in 2016.
The second leading cause of death in the same age cohort was firearm-related deaths, which came to more than 3,100 deaths in the same year. Cancer ranked third as the cause of child and teen death, with suffocation, mostly as a result of suicide, coming in fourth.
According to the study, prevention efforts have helped cut the youth death rate from vehicle crashes in half over the last 17 years from 1999 to 2016. But during the same time period, the youth death rate from firearms has stayed about the same. And the rate from firearms is more than 36 times higher than the average rate across 12 other high-income countries.
"Firearm injury can be addressed through good public health injury prevention science the same way that we've addressed motor vehicle crash and other causes of death that we see in the top ten, such as drowning, and fire and burn injuries. Those have also decreased dramatically over the past 15 or 20 years," said Dr. Rebecca Cunningham, lead author of the study, director of the UM Injury Prevention Center, and professor of emergency medicine at Michigan Medicine.
Cunningham said there's been almost no firearm-related public health and injury protection science research, and that needs to change.
"We really should be investing in research and resources to decrease this preventable cause of death, while respecting the culture of our country and our second amendment rights," said Cunningham. "Those two are not incompatible."
Cunningham said doctors have an important role to play in preventing firearm deaths of children and teens.
"We should be asking our patients about storing their guns more safely, in the same way we ask them if their children are wearing a helmet if they're riding a bike or whether they're safely secured in a car seat and if they're in the right car seat," Cunningham said. "Having physicians and patients be more comfortable with those questions, because it's such an important cause of death among kids, should be part of our routine care."
The study, which drew from publicly available data in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's WONDER database of death certificate information, has been recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.