(Reuters Health) – One in five adolescents in large U.S. cities lived or attended school within a six-minute walk of a prior-year deadly shooting, a new study shows.
The grim reality was even worse for Blacks and Hispanics. More than one-third of Blacks and more than one-fourth of Hispanics lived or went to school within 500 meters, or three-tenths of a mile, of fatal gun violence around their 15th birthday, researchers found.
“Poor children of color are carrying the most burden,” said Sarah James, a postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Population Center at Cornell University and lead author of the study in Health Affairs.
“It really was sobering to us to find that one in five adolescents was exposed to this violence, and the magnitude of the racial and the income disparities were also quite notable,” she told Reuters Health in a phone interview.
Emergency physician Dr. Megan Ranney used the same word, “sobering,” to describe the racial and ethnic disparities the study revealed. Ranney is associate dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island and chief research officer for the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine, or AFFIRM. (https://affirmresearch.org/) She was not involved in the new study.
Adolescents living in poor households were more likely to live or go to school in neighborhoods with deadly gun violence than youth in higher-income households, the research found. “But, even after adjusting for income, Black and Hispanic youth were more likely to be exposed,” Ranney said in a phone interview. “So it’s not just about poverty but about structural racism.”
James’ study was the first to examine ethnic, racial and income disparities in exposure to violence by connecting data sets on births and firearm deaths.
The researchers linked data from the Gun Violence Archive (https://bit.ly/3ip3Gv5) to the home and school addresses of adolescent participants in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (https://bit.ly/3cozGM5), research on children born from 1998 to 2000 in 16 large U.S. cities. The randomly selected cities stretched from New York to San Jose and included Chicago, Pittsburgh and Nashville.
The Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit corporation, uses media, law enforcement, government and commercial sources to catalogue deadly gun violence. It captured approximately 88% of non-suicidal firearm deaths from January 2014 through October 5, 2017.
The new study found that 21% of 2,313 adolescent participants lived or attended school near a deadly shooting in the prior year. For white adolescents, the percentage dropped to 4%, while for Black adolescents it rose to 36% and for Hispanic adolescents to 29%.
Adolescents in poor households had a 37% chance of nearby deadly gun violence, compared to a 10% chance for those in middle- to high-income households.
At every income level, though, Black and Hispanic adolescents had higher rates of exposure to deadly gun violence than their white counterparts.
Exposure to violence can lead to lifelong stress, the study authors write. Adolescents who live in communities with violence experience post-traumatic-stress disorder, delinquent and risky health behaviors.
“We don’t know all the downstream consequences,” James said. However, she added, we do know that living in the shadow of violence “creates a toll on the body and the mind.”
“What a horrific epidemic our kids are growing up in,” Ranney said.
The study raises a host of questions, particularly with regard to racial and ethnic disparities, she said. “How do we change these disparate exposures?” she asked.
The reason we know so little about risk and protective factors for exposure to gun violence is that for decades federal spending has, until recently, prohibited studying gun injuries and deaths as a public health issue.
Though firearms injuries are the leading cause of death among U.S. high school students and the second leading cause of death among U.S. children and teens, Ranney and her colleagues found in a 2019 study that federal funding for research on pediatric firearm injury was a mere 3.3% of what it should be based on mortality burden. (https://bit.ly/2Ru1Rlz)
The federal government funded research on cancer, the third-leading cause of mortality among American youngsters, to the tune of $335 million per year, but the Health Affairs study found grants amounting to just $12 million for research into preventing pediatric firearm injuries.
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3cpkuOE Health Affairs, online June 7, 2021.
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