County-level poverty linked to increased risk of firearm-related deaths among children

Living in U.S. counties with higher concentrations of poverty was associated with increased risk of firearm-related deaths among children and young adults, according to findings published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Our study adds to the growing body of literature demonstrating the relationship between county poverty concentration and adverse child health outcomes. A multi-dimensional strategy is urgently needed to reduce child poverty and firearm deaths.”

Jennifer Hoffmann, ’13 MD, assistant professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Emergency Medicine and co-author of the study

For the current study, Hoffmann and colleagues analyzed national public data of firearm-related deaths among U.S. children and young adults — ages 5 to 24 years — that occurred from January 2007 through December 2016.

A total of 67,905 firearm-related deaths among U.S. children and young adults (89 percent male) occurred during this period. The investigators found that firearm-related deaths, including homicides, suicides and unintentional deaths among this population occurred more often in U.S. counties with rates of high poverty.

Notably, children and young adults living in these counties accounted for 22 percent of all firearm deaths, 25.5 percent of firearm homicides, 15.3 percent of firearm suicides, and 25.1 percent unintentional firearm deaths in the U.S. during this period. Additionally, non-Hispanic Black youth accounted for 44.8 percent of all firearm deaths and 63.9 percent of firearm homicides.

“Nearly four million years of potential life were lost among U.S. youth due to firearm deaths during the 10-year period studied,” Hoffmann said.

The findings underscore the need for more policymaking efforts that support safety-net programs to reduce child poverty and that increase firearm regulation. Additional research is also needed to better understand how to prevent firearm deaths and how to best support survivors of firearm violence, according to Hoffmann.

“Although this study focuses on firearm-related deaths, most victims of firearm violence survive, with significant detrimental effects on their physical health, mental health and their communities,” Hoffmann said.

Journal reference:

Barrett, J.T., et al. (2021) Association of County-Level Poverty and Inequities With Firearm-Related Mortality in US Youth. JAMA Pediatrics.

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