What We're Learning About Deaths from Unintentional Injuries
Deaths from unintentional injuries account for approximately two thirds of deaths from all injuries in the United States. From 1999 to 2004, overall in the United States, the rate of deaths caused by unintentional injuries increased 7 percent. This report describes the leading causes of death from unintentional injuries and discusses how raising awareness about the causes of these injuries is key to preventing unintentional injuries and reducing the number of deaths that result. Created: 11/2/2007 by MMWR.
Date Released: 11/21/2007. Series Name: A Cup of Health with CDC.
A CUP OF HEALTH WITH CDC
What We're Learning About Deaths from
State-specific Unintentional Injury Deaths — United States, 1999–2004
November 21, 2007
[Announcer] This podcast is presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC – safer,
[Matthew Reynolds] Welcome to A Cup of Health with CDC, a weekly broadcast of the
MMWR, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. I’m your host, Matthew Reynolds.
In a Charlie Chaplin film, slipping on a banana peel is funny, however, in real life,
unintentional injuries are no laughing matter. They’re the leading cause of death among
people between 1 and 44 years old.
Dr. Daphne Moffett, a researcher with CDC’s Injury Prevention Program says that
raising awareness about the causes of these injuries is key to preventing unintentional
injuries and reducing the number deaths that result. Dr. Moffett, welcome to the show.
[Dr. Moffett] Thank you, Matthew. It’s very nice to be here.
[Matthew Reynolds] Dr. Moffett, your study uses the term “unintentional injuries”
instead of “accidents.” In everyday conversation, we usually hear, “John had such an
unfortunate accident” or “Cindy was in a terrible accident.” Why do you use the term
“unintentional injury” instead of “accident?”
[Dr. Moffett] We use that term because we want people to understand that these are,
for the most part, preventable. So, often times the public thinks of accidents as
something that’s unavoidable. It’s something that happens in everyday life and they just
come and go and you really can’t do anything about them. However, what we’ve found
is that the majority of injuries are preventable. That’s why we call them unintentional
[Matthew Reynolds] What qualifies as an unintentional injury?
[Dr. Moffett] Unintentional injuries really encompass a large set of things that people
refer to as accidents. So things like house fires, drownings, motor vehicle crashes,
bicycle crashes, falls, slips, trips, even small children’s poisonings; all of those we group
or classify as unintentional injury. And the difference actually, between an unintentional
injury versus an intentional injury, intentional injuries are things like violent acts. So
that’s the separator between the two. So any time there’s an act of violence involved or
suicide, that’s considered an intentional injury. There’s really a motive there to have
that, whatever the action is, occur.
[Matthew Reynolds] What are the leading causes of death from unintentional injuries?
[Dr. Moffett] The leading causes of death are motor vehicle crashes is really the
leading cause of death for unintentional injury. In addition to that, although those have
really stabilized over the last several years, what we’re now beginning to see though,
which is driving an increase in the injuries that we’ve seen, are things like falls among
the elderly, and, actually unintentional poisonings in the adult population, not in the
[Matthew Reynolds] To what do you attribute the poisonings?
[Dr. Moffett] The poisonings are actually coming about from the use and over use of
some prescription drugs that people have managed to get a hold of and, instead of
taking them the way that they’ve been intended, they’re either taking additional amounts
or they’re taking their friend’s prescriptions, and we’ve seen a great increase in those
injuries, attributed to poisonings.
[Matthew Reynolds] As you look back a few years, what’s made the most difference in
decreasing the likelihood of unintentional injuries, overall?
[Dr. Moffett] That’s a great question. Several things have happened and much of it
does, I think, relate to legislation. Things like seat belt laws, mandatory seat belt laws. I
mean, that was the great, really the great one, that reduced the numbers of injuries that
people incurred from motor vehicle crashes. Things like child proof caps on medicine
bottles; that was another one. While I think all of these have really helped to reduce
unintentional injuries, we recognize that we still have a long way to go because, for
example, in the states, the states all decide on their own seat belt laws. Some of them
have what is called primary seat belt laws and some of them have secondary seat belt
laws. So the states that have a primary seat belt law, an officer is allowed to pull over
and ticket a person who is not wearing a seat belt. If the state has a secondary seat belt
law, then basically, the officer is able to pull over and ticket someone for not wearing a
seat belt if they’re doing something else. So if they’re speeding, then they’d do that, but
they wouldn’t necessarily write them a ticket for just not wearing their seat belt.
Matthew Reynolds] You mentioned legislation affecting the public, overall. What about
the individual? What do you recommend for people to do to prevent unintentional
[Dr. Moffett] There are multiple things that people can do, and we have a whole host of
things that could be done, either for kids or for adults or for the elderly. It really sort of, I
guess, depends on your situation. But things like, every time you get in your car, you
buckle up and you make sure your kids are buckled up and you make sure that your
kids are, you know, sitting in the appropriate booster seats or the child safety seats,
whatever is appropriate for their age. Making certain that, if you have a pool, the pool is
fenced in. Making sure that your kids are wearing, you know, life vests or life jackets,
personal floatation devices if they’re swimming out in open water and that you’ve got
somebody who’s supervising them. Things like making sure all of your medicines are
put in a place where your kids can’t get them. And it’s amazing what small children can
get to in your house, so, and making sure that cleaning agents are all put away, as well.
And in terms of for older adults, making sure that there are no slip, trip, fall hazards for
them. So, any throw rugs or loose cords or making sure there’s appropriate lighting for
the stairs. All of those types of things, which are really sort of everyday things that a
person can do on their own, that’s inexpensive and a real simple thing to do and that
can prevent a lot of unintentional injury.
[Matthew Reynolds] Based on the reports that you receive and the studies that you’ve
been conducting, have you noticed any trends in the frequency of unintentional injuries
or the number of deaths that are resulting from them?
[Dr. Moffett] In the report that we released recently, we looked at data between the
years of 1999 and 2004, and what we found was an overall 7 percent increase in
unintentional injury rates. The reasons for the national increase really have to do with an
increase in falls among the elderly and the poisonings, the unintentional poisonings.
Those are really driving those rates. For individual states, they would really need to look
at their own data to make a determination as to what it is that’s happening within their
states that may have changed their rates, whether they went up or down.
[Matthew Reynolds] What is CDC doing to reduce the rate of unintentional injuries?
[Dr. Moffett] CDC works with our state partners through several different core injury
programs in order to assist them with developing state-based injury prevention
programs. And, in addition to that, we do research, obviously here at CDC, to
investigate these problems and how can we address these problems. So, for example,
with the falls among the older adults, we will be putting out, at the beginning of the year,
a booklet that people should be able to download from the internet which will list
effective interventions to reduce falls among older adults. So these have already been
tested; they’ve been shown to work. So the states can then look at those and determine
whether or not those can be turned into a program they could use within their states to
help reduce falls among the elderly.
[Matthew Reynolds] You mentioned earlier about child seats for cars, life jackets, that
sort of thing. If parents, for example, are listening to this and wondering, “Do I have it
installed correctly?”, “Do I know how to put the life jacket on correctly?”, “Put the bicycle
helmet on correctly?” What do you recommend for them? Where should they go for
more information and more information about unintentional injuries in general?
[Dr. Moffett] There are several places that people can look for information about how to
prevent unintentional injury. What I’d like to do is give you the web address for CDC’s
injury center first and then address some local places people can look. So the web
address is www.cdc.gov/injuryviolencesafety, all one word. And, if you visit this website,
this gives information about the programs that we have here. In addition to that, there
are several local places that are really good for communities to go to get that
information. Things like the fire houses. Firemen are very used to going into people’s
houses and helping them with installation of smoke alarms and smoke detectors and
they can explain how to install them correctly and remind people about changing their
batteries. In addition, you can take your car to the fire house and they will help you
install your children’s safety seats. So if you’re not sure how to do it, that’s a great place
to go. Also, most hospitals have someone who can help with that, as well. So those are
really good places to look for that type of information.
[Matthew Reynolds] Dr. Moffett, thank you for being here and sharing this information
with us today.
[Dr. Moffett] It’s my pleasure, Matthew. Thanks for asking.
[Matthew Reynolds] That’s it for this week’s show. Don’t forget to join us next week.
Until then, be well. This is Matthew Reynolds for A Cup of Health with CDC.
To access the most accurate and relevant health information that affects you, your family and your
community, please visit www.cdc.gov.