What is the leading cause of death for children and teens?
If you said accidents, you’re right. Injury is the leading cause of death for children over 1 year of age. This includes accidents, homicide and suicide. A recent troubling report from the CDC states that injury deaths are now on the rise among our kids and teens.
It used to be that kids mostly died from infections. Pneumonia, measles, polio, influenza, strep throat, the list goes on. As we got better at preventing and treating these illnesses, injury deaths became the leading killer of kids and teenagers.
We’ve been doing better with injury prevention. Better automobile safety measures like seat belts and air bags have helped tremendously. Injury deaths fell by 35% between 1999 and 2013.
Then they started to trend up again. Injury deaths rose by over 15% from 2013 to 2016 (the last year for which data is available).
Why is this on the rise again? All injury causes of death rose, including accidents, suicides and homicides. Suicides are typically underreported and may be mistaken for accidental poisonings (especially opiate overdoses).
From reading this report, I have 3 takeaway points.
MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE SERVICES ARE CRITICAL
We have to help our kids cope with stress better. I’ve written before about kids’ mental health issues. Adolescence is hard no matter who you are or where you live, but some teens struggle more with it than others.
I’ve talked with more than one terrified parent desperate to protect their child and help them get and stay well. I’ve wondered more than once if letting a teenager walk out of my office meant an unacceptable risk that I’d never see their face again except in an obituary photo.
It is critically important that we develop effective, easily accessed, and affordable mental health and substance abuse services that are designed for children and teenagers. Our kids are killing themselves and each other, and we have to help them!
TEENAGE DRIVERS ARE A MENACE
My son is learning to drive right now, so I KNOW just how hair-raising it is to have an impulse-control-challenged video game player with a serious social media addiction behind the wheel! (Just kidding, my son doesn’t do social media accounts. Texting, yes. Instagram or Snapchat, no.)
The death rate from motor vehicle accidents for teens 15-19 is almost 6 times that of kids 10-14. In Ohio teens learning to drive must not only participate in extensive driver training but they must also spend 50 hours behind the wheel driving with their parent or guardian.
We very sadly had a traffic accident locally within the last few years where a teen driver had her car overloaded such that not every passenger had access to a seatbelt. She was driving unsafely, lost control of the car and a teenage passenger was killed. More laws would not have prevented this needless death, but it serves to illustrate that teens don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to behavior behind the wheel.
THOSE WHO OWN GUNS MUST KEEP THEM SECURE
Homicide and suicide by firearms are both on the rise. Homicides of male children and teens increased by 25% from 2013 to 2016. Homicides of female children and teens increased by a whopping 72%. Suicides by firearms are overwhelmingly more common with boys, but rising in girls too.
Adults who own guns must keep them locked up and secure. This is both a legal and moral responsibility and makes intuitive sense, but I think adults sometimes are as prone to impulse control problems and delusions of immortality as their teenage counterparts.
As a parent myself, and as a physician that cares for children and teens, the rise in injury deaths over the last few years is very concerning to me. I will be keeping an eye on future reports and passing on recommendations to help keep my and your kids as safe as possible!
QUESTION: Why do you think the injury deaths are on the rise for kids and teens over the last few years?