Alaska 4th highest for fatal injuries to children

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

Alaska has dropped from first to fourth highest in the nation for fatal injuries to children, but injuries still are the leading cause of death in kids and teen-agers here, according to a new state study.

Although the rate of fatal injuries among Alaska youths declined 20 percent in the 1990s, about 80 children die from injury each year and more than 1,000 are hospitalized, according to the study, which analyzed data of kids up to age 19 who were hospitalized or killed from 1994-98.

The top five causes of death from injury were suicide, car crashes, homicide, drowning and fire, said Martha Moore, an author of the study released by the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Out of about 400 children who died in the five-year period, 85 deaths were from suicide, 64 from car crashes, 48 from homicide, 46 from drowning and 24 from fire.

The rate of suicides, homicides and drowning deaths did not decline from rates measured in 1991-94, said Moore, manager of the state Injury Surveillance and Prevention Program.

However, fewer kids died in car crashes and fires compared to years past, said Moore, who noted that tougher seat belt laws for children 15 and younger and distribution of smoke alarms might have made a difference.

"Hopefully, some of the efforts we've done in injury prevention have worked," Moore said.

The youngest child to attempt or complete suicide was age 6, but the most prevalent age was 15, and the numbers were high from ages 14-19, the study found.

Females were more likely to attempt suicide but males were more likely to die from it. Poison was the most common method used by suicide survivors, while firearms were the most common means used by kids who died, the study said.

The most frequent reasons for suicidal behavior were family problems, relationship problems and depression.

"The suicide rate here is huge and it has not decreased," Moore said.

The top five causes of serious non-fatal injuries were falling, suicide attempts, car crashes, sports accidents and bicycle accidents, according to the study.

Out of more than 5,200 children hospitalized with serious injuries from 1994-98, 1,081 were hurt in falls, 685 in suicide attempts, 629 in car crashes, 268 in sports accidents and 239 in bike accidents, the study found.

Youths suffered a higher rate of injury from falls, car crashes and off-road vehicle accidents in 1994-98 than in previous years. Snowboarding and in-line skating gained in popularity in the last decade and that may account partly for the spike in falls, Moore said.

Children under 5 showed the highest rate of serious injury from falling, the study said, noting that about 31 percent fell from furniture such as chairs, beds, counters and tables, while 9 percent fell on stairs. Approximately 8 percent of kids in that age group fell out of windows or off decks, porches or balconies, while about 7 percent were dropped by a parent, sibling or baby sitter.

Trampolines accounted for about 5 percent of all serious falls, said Moore, adding that the American Academy of Pediatrics has said children should not use them.

Kids "get their arms and legs caught and broken, but they also have spinal chord injuries, and if they bounce off and land on their head they'll have a head injury," she said.

The state could lower the death and injury rates by requiring children to wear helmets on bikes and off-road vehicles or banning children from snowmachines and ATVs, she said.

"A person wouldn't let their 7-year-old take the family SUV down to the corner store, but it would probably be safer if they did than letting them take the snowmachine or the ATV because you're enclosed, you've got a seat belt and an airbag (in an SUV)," she said.

The state could make seat belt laws more strict by allowing police to pull over and ticket any person who is not wearing one, she said. Police currently may do that only if they spot a child age 15 or under without a seat belt or if they pull over the driver for another reason.

"That would help the 16 to 19 age group because they're at the highest risk, and they're the ones that clearly need to be encouraged to use their seat belts more," she said.

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