Yale Study Examines Rate Youth Are Hospitalized for Gun Injuries

Jan 27, 2014

Firearm injuries are the second leading cause of death among children in the U.S., but there has been scarce information available about the number of young people nationwide who are hospitalized because of gun injuries. 

Now Yale researchers have analyzed hospital data, and their study was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. 

In 2009, 7,391 young people were hospitalized for gun injuries. Dr. John Leventhal, the study's co-author, said this means about 20 children are hospitalized each day in the U.S. because of firearms. 

Hospitalization rates for firearm-related injuries by cause. The number above each bar indicates the relative risk of hospitalization (referent = 0-to 4-year-olds).
Credit Pediatrics

Leventhal is a professor at the Yale School of Medicine, and is medical director of the Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital child abuse program. "The majority were adolescents," he said, "15 to 19 years old, and were due to intentional injuries or assault. Twenty-nine percent were accidental. In children less than 15, almost two-thirds were due to accidents. From clinical cases, we know [that] when children or adolescents are playing with guns, something terrible happens."

Leventhal said these young people suffer from open wounds, fractures, internal injuries, and some suffer from traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries. He said he embarked on this study after the Newtown tragedy. Read WNPR's interview with Leventhal below.

WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil: I understand your team looked at the hospitalizations of children and adolescents in 2009. What did you find?

Dr. John Leventhal: We found that hospitalizations occurred commonly. There was over 7,000 children or adolescents that were hospitalized in 2009 and that turns out to be about 20 US children hospitalized each day in this country. Three of those children each day were less than 15 years of age.

Did you find that these firearm injuries were intentional or accidental?

The majority were in adolescents 15-19 years and were intentional injuries or assault. 29 percent overall were accidental, and in the young children less than 15 years of age, ⅔ rds were due to accidents, from clinical cases we know that this occurs when children or young adolescents are playing with guns and something terrible happens.

When we talk about injuries, what kind of injuries are inflicted by firearms?

The most common include open wounds, about half the children had at least one fracture, about a 3rd had internal injury of a major organ and sadly about one-seventh of all the children had traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury and those injuries tend not to heal as opposed to a fracture which can heal and allow someone to recover completely.

Is this the first study that looks at the hospitalization of children and adolescents caused by gun injuries?

That is correct. In 2009, there were about 3,000 deaths from firearms. Most of those occurred in children or adolescents that did not make it to the hospital. The children in our study were those hospitalized, and about 450 of those died in the hospital, often the result of suicide. The number of deaths were about 3,000, at least double the number that were hospitalized. Of course, this study didn’t look at the physiological consequences, the family consequences or the community consequences of these injuries to young people.

Often, we hear about the leading cause of death, whether drowning or car accidents, and how to prevent those deaths from happening. How can this study be used to educate the public about firearms?

Excellent question. The American Academy of Pediatrics says -- and I’m a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics -- that the safest home related to guns is a home that has no guns in it. If there is a gun in it it should be locked, unloaded when locked, and ammunition should be stored separately, and also locked, and that would permit and insure that some of the children that were injured in 2009 won’t be injured in 2014, or 2015, 2016. The other thing that has to be done -- and this is much complicated -- is to reduce the availability of guns in children and adolescents, especially those 15 to 19 years old.

How did you decide to do this study?

I had been using a national data set on hospitalizations to examine children that were abused for child abuse and decided due to the Newtown tragedy that I would examine children hospitalized for gun related injuries. I was surprised that there were over 7,000 children hospitalized because of gun related injuries.