Abusive Head Trauma Cases Involving Young Children Increased During Recession

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Abusive Head Trauma During a Time of Increased Unemployment: A Multicenter Analysis


The number of abusive head trauma injuries to children under the age of 5 increased significantly throughout the whole country during the 19-month period that America was officially in an economic recession, compared with the 47 preceding months.

A study, conducted by researchers at children’s hospitals in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, found no relationship between county-level unemployment rates and the number of diagnosed traumatic head injuries, but the researchers said the increase was so significant that the results should spur “discussion” of various stressors during tight economic times.

The study evaluated the rates of abusive head trauma in Western Pennsylvania, the Seattle area and in Ohio, as well as the average rate for the country. In Pennsylvania, the rate of abusive head trauma injuries increased from 8.7 per 100,000 children before the recession to 20.8 per 100,000 during the recession.  The Seattle and Ohio areas also saw increases in the AHT rate during the recession increasing from five per 100,000 to 10.4 per 100,000 and 11 per 100,000 to 13.7 per 100,000 children, respectively.  The average rate of abusive head traumas throughout the country increased from 8.9 per 100,000 prior to the recession to 14.7 per 100,000 during the recession.

Although the number of injuries increased, the mortality rate of about 16.9 percent stayed the same, as did the demographics of the victims.

The study included only those children with abusive head trauma who were under the age of 5; the average age was 8.9 months, the youngest child was a week old and the oldest was 58 months – two months short of the fifth birthday.

Most of the children in the study were covered by public insurance, indicating that their families were under financial stress, the authors said.

“The lack of a difference in the demographic or clinical characteristics of subjects before compared with during the recession indicates that the recession was a societal-level risk factor that increased risk for all,” the authors said.

To read the free abstract, click here.