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Growing Up Injury-Free in the 21st Century

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Earlier this month, the European Safety Alliance released Child Safety Report Cards for 31 countries -- and here in the U.S., we would do well to learn from this far-reaching, comprehensive thinking. When many Americans hear the word health, we reflexively think of disease. But it is equally important to remember that injuries are major health concerns and -- like many diseases -- also preventable. Overall, we've probably had more success preventing injury than many diseases and should build on that success.

Injuries can afflict all of us and are the cause of nearly 40 percent of the deaths among our children: It's a mistake to think of these injuries as "accidents" -- although many people use that term -- because they are predictable and preventable. Every serious injury is a personal tragedy, but as a society, we still don't always take the steps needed to prevent such tragedies from occurring, in the first place. We owe it to our families (and our health care budgets) to invest in a future where we can all grow up injury-free. While we can't prevent every injury, we can easily cut the numbers in half if only we try. In order to do this, we must move our focus to prevention.

To prevent injuries, Europe's Child Safety Report Cards particularly highlight the importance of how environments can protect health -- like how investing in safer walking, biking and public transportation options help promote health and safety, as one example. Making change requires increased collaboration between health leaders, city planners, road and transit designers, and public officials, and a stronger focus on changing environments for all communities. While the report cards span 31 different countries -- and each community is unique -- there is great opportunity to learn from the many different solutions to improving health and safety. Having participated as an advisor to the European Safety Alliance, I'm pleased to say that the report cards help us do just that.

The European Child Safety Report Cards are tools to stimulate action and highlight each country's strengths and areas for improvement. They encourage strategy, prioritization and accountability. In the U.S., we too must be held accountable for our nation's health. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's recent National Action Plan for Child Injury Prevention calls for a renewed focus on decreasing injuries and deaths. Dr. Linda Degutis, director of the National Center for injury Prevention and Control emphasizes the importance of collaboration:

"Child injury remains a serious problem in which everyone-including parents, state health officials, health care providers, government and community groups-has a critical role to play to protect and save the lives of our young people."

We have already made great gains in the U.S. in injury prevention. We know what to do and what works: Over the last century, injury-related deaths have decreased markedly -- through advances like workplace injury prevention, child safety seat laws, safety caps on medicine, and more. But despite these gains, injuries continue to be the No. 1 cause of death, disability, and inequity for countless lives lost, decreased quality of life and substantial health care costs. Nearly 9 million U.S. children are treated for injuries each year -- to the tune of $87 billion in medical and societal costs. Injuries also disproportionately impact our most vulnerable children, including American Indian, Alaska Native, and low-income communities.

Because injuries are often characterized as "accidents," they don't get the attention or the resources that they deserve. As a result, we fail to prevent them. It's time to be ambitious, and it's time to be effective. We must build on emerging current-day approaches and implement local strategies where we can translate our capacity into action -- in every community, and in every state. We can learn from our past successes and chart a new course for injury prevention, not just in this century, or this decade, but this very year.

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