Report on risk of accidental injury in children

Issue date: 08 March 2005

Issue date: 04/05/05

Children from poor families five times more likely to die from unintentional injuries, new HDA report highlights

The Health Development Agency has today published the findings of a study examining the extent and nature of unintentional injuries – commonly called accidental injuries - in children.

The alarming fact that children from the poorest families are five times more likely to be killed as a result of unintentional injuries than those from the most affluent is one of the most stark and damning statistics to be highlighted by the report. Children from poorer families are also 16 times more likely to die in a house fire and five times more likely to die as a pedestrian.

Research shows that the poorest children are more likely to suffer injuries that require hospital admission and when they are admitted their injuries are likely to be more serious than those experienced by children from affluent families.

The report, “Injuries in children aged 0-14 years and inequalities”, looks at the variations in place, social, economic and cultural factors, and how they affect the rate, severity and nature of unintentional injuries that occur. The report highlights many of the inequalities, points out the lack of appropriate interventions and suggests how best these differences might be evened out, and how threats posed to children might be minimised.

Professor Elizabeth Towner, author of the HDA report, said:

“The fact that children from poorer families are at greater risk from unintentional injuries must be addressed. We need to work to develop an environment in which every child in this country, irrespective of social circumstance, is equally well protected from unintentional injury and death.”

Injuries to children are common as they develop and explore. The types of injuries children have relate very closely to their age and stage of physical development. However, every year, over 2 million children are taken to a hospital as a result of an injury, and around half of these events happen at home.

The major causes of unintentional injury deaths are road accidents, especially pedestrian casualties, house fires, drowning and falls. There are some common misunderstandings: very few children indeed die from accidental poisoning or electrocution – the annual numbers for both causes are in single figures. The good news is that the number of unintentional injury deaths has been declining steadily. In England and Wales in 1979, almost 1,100 children died as a result of unintentional injury, compared with 261 in 2002.

However, the data is based on hospital admissions only and many more children who are injured may not show up in the statistics. For example, a pre-school child with a mild head injury may be admitted to hospital, while an older child may not. Similarly a child from a disadvantaged background may be admitted to hospital, while a child from a more affluent background with a similar injury may not.

HDA Director of Evidence and Guidance, Professor Mike Kelly, said:

“This report provides a benchmark from which to develop interventions that are most likely to be successful not only in reducing further the number of unintentional injuries in children, but also helping to tackle the inequality between different areas of society.”


Notes to Editors

1. The guidance is available to press on the Health Development Agency website, the direct link is

2. The Health Development Agency is the national authority on what works to improve people's health and to reduce health inequalities. It works in partnership across sectors to gather evidence of what works, advise on standards and to develop the skills of all those working to improve people’s health.

3. This report has been prepared by the Health Development Agency Evidence and Guidance Collaborating Centre for the prevention of accidental injuries - a consortium of organisations headed by Elizabeth Towner, professor of child health at the University of the West of England. The other parts of the consortium are the University of Newcastle and Child Accident Prevention Trust.

4. From 1 April 2005, the functions of the Health Development Agency will transfer to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. The new organisation will be the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (to be known as NICE). It will be the independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health.

For further information: Please contact David Burrows or Dr Tonya Gillis at the HDA Press Office on 020 7061 3108 / 3117

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