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Child Abuse Head Injuries Rise as Economy Falls
Date:5/1/2010

Study found almost twice as many per month in a downturn

SATURDAY, May 1 (HealthDay News) -- The number of abusive head traumas among infants and young children appears to have risen dramatically across the United States since the onset of the current recession in 2007, new research reveals.

The observation linking poor economics to an increase in one of the most extreme forms of child abuse stems from a focused analysis on shifting caseload numbers in four urban children's hospitals. But the finding may ultimately touch upon a broader national trend.

"Abusive head trauma -- previously known as 'shaken baby syndrome' -- is the leading cause of death from child abuse, if you don't count neglect," noted study author Dr. Rachel P. Berger, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "And so, what's concerning here is that we saw in four cities that there was a marked increase in the rate of abusive head trauma among children during the recession compared with beforehand."

"Now we know that poverty and stress are clearly related to child abuse," added Berger. "And during times of economic hardship one of the things that's hardest hit are the social services that are most needed to prevent child abuse. So, this is really worrisome."

Berger, who also serves as an attending physician at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, is slated to present her findings with her colleagues Saturday at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

To gain insight into how the ebb and flow of abusive head trauma cases might correlate with economic ups and downs, the research team looked over the 2004-2009 records of four urban children's hospitals.

The hospitals were located in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. Only cases of "unequivocal" abusive head trauma were included in the data.

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