UConn public health researcher leads new study into pediatric gun deaths

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Amy Hunter, assistant professor of public health sciences at UConn Health, investigates the historically overlooked area of ​​pediatric gun-related deaths. Hunter’s project is supported by a $ 100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Hunter will work to better understand which children are most likely to be affected by gun violence in different circumstances. This work will help inform policies and practical interventions focused on reducing childhood gun injuries and deaths.

Gun injuries are one of the leading causes of death among children in the United States. In 2018, firearms were involved in 6,500 non-fatal pediatric injuries and 1,700 child deaths in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This rate increased by 31% between 2010 and 2018, indicating the need for a rapid public health response.

Historically, studies of pediatric gun injuries and deaths (defined as those aged zero to 17) have been limited to data sources with small sample sizes and limited geographic scope. This has led research efforts on this topic to lag behind other areas of pediatric health, despite the fact that firearms are attributed to more pediatric deaths than heart disease, influenza and stroke. pneumonia, sepsis and cerebrovascular disease combined.

Additionally, recent studies have identified racial disparities in these injuries and deaths. These studies found that black children are the most common victims of firearm homicides among children, accounting for about half of all firearm deaths among children. White children, on the other hand, are the most vulnerable to suicide-related gun deaths.

There is a significant research gap regarding the circumstantial characteristics that contribute to the racial and ethnic disparities associated with homicides and pediatric suicides.

“Firearms have been implicated in more than 14,000 pediatric deaths between 2010 and 2019,” Hunter said. “Identifying the underlying risk factors attributed to these deaths and disaggregating them by race / ethnicity is necessary to establish an effective intervention and ensure equitable health and development of children. “

In this new study, Hunter will use data from 17 states in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) from 2014 to 2018. The demographics represented in the NVDRS closely match that of the US population, making it a valuable resource. . The NVDRS contains information on more than 600 variables on deceased persons, perpetrators, crime scene and forensic examinations, including reports from law enforcement and forensic pathologists.

While other studies have made use of the information available through the NVDRS, none have focused specifically on the racial and ethnic characteristics, circumstances and disparities in these deaths. Access to this level of detailed data will allow Hunter to create an unprecedented comprehensive picture of childhood gun deaths and injuries.

Hunter will combine quantitative and qualitative methods to capture the unique and complex circumstances surrounding each case.

NVDRS data will allow Hunter to examine the family and circumstantial characteristics of each incident, including whether it involved intimate partner violence, financial stress, health issues, substance abuse, legal issues, or abuse. gang activity.

It will then examine how these factors may vary by race or ethnicity and determine which groups are disproportionately affected in different circumstances.

Ultimately, Hunter hopes this work can help provide the necessary context on childhood gun deaths to inform future prevention efforts and make them more effective.

Hunter holds an MPH and a doctorate. from the University of West Virginia. His research focuses on the prevention of child abuse and interventions to improve detection in clinical settings. She is the Connecticut Injury Surveillance System PI at the Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center.

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