From the Journals

Research on pediatric firearms deaths is underfunded



Federal funding for research into death by firearms in children and adolescents does not match the level of the mortality burden these deaths represent, new research has found.

This photo originally appeared on Joshuashearn/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

For the period 2008-2017, an average of $88 million per year was granted to study motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of death in this age group. Cancer, the third leading cause of mortality, received on average $335 million per year. However, research into mortality from firearms, the second leading cause of death in this age group, received $12 million total during the entire research period across a total of 32 research grants.

This translates to $26,136 in research funding per death for the 33,577 deaths of children and adolescents in motor vehicle crashes from 2008-2017, $195,508 per death from cancer (17,111 deaths recorded), and just $597 per death from firearm injury (20,719 deaths recorded).

Pediatric firearm injury prevention “is substantially underfunded in relation to the magnitude of the public health problem,” Rebecca Cunningham, MD, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues wrote in the October 2019 issue of Health Affairs.

“According to our analysis, federal funding for this leading cause of pediatric mortality is 3.3 percent of what would be needed for it to be commensurate with the funding for other common causes of pediatric death,” the authors continued.

Dr. Cunningham and colleagues said that the “lack of an evidence base for firearm safety prevention has likely contributed to the lack of progress on, and recent increase in, firearm deaths among children and adolescents since 2013.”

They did note that there was an increase in federal research funding following the shooting in Newtown, Conn., with an increase from $136,224 in 2012 to $4.5 million in 2017, but it clearly is not enough.

“Our analysis, using other major diseases and the country’s history of federal funding as a guide, demonstrates that approximately $37 million per year over the next decade is needed to realize a reduction in pediatric firearm mortality that is comparable to that observed for other pediatric causes of death,” the authors state.

The group also suggests the development of a group similar to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that is focused specifically on firearm safety that could “begin to address the large gaps in foundational epidemiological and multidisciplinary behavioral research that the nation needs. It could have a transformational impact on the reduction of firearm injuries among children and adolescents parallel to what has been seen for other major causes of pediatric death in the U.S.”

SOURCE: Cunningham R et al. Health Affairs. 2019. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2019.00476.

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