Violent injury rates among schoolchildren alarmingly high, study reveals

Research shows that one in three tenth graders has suffered an injury from a gunshot, stabbing, or other assault-related incident.

HOUSTON — A shocking study claims that about one in every six fifth graders in the United States has suffered a violent injury — a proportion that increases as the children get older.

Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston turned to data on 4,300 children when they were in fifth, seventh, and tenth grade. The children were students at public schools in three major U.S. communities: Houston, Los Angeles County, and Birmingham, Alabama. The children in the study were questioned over time to determine the numbers and the types of injury.

The authors found that a staggering 16.7% of schoolchildren reported at least one violent injury in fifth grade, with most injuries coming from knives or guns. The risk of injury increased as the child aged: By the time the student reached tenth grade, one in three had suffered an injury from gunshot, stabbing wound, or assault-related incident.

The researchers pointed to the high prevalence of bullying in schools as a reason behind these high injury numbers. Interestingly, they found that bullies themselves were 41% more likely to suffer a violent injury than their peers — with more than a quarter suffering a gunshot wound by tenth grade.

“The biggest surprise was the sheer scale of intentional violent injuries children are suffering, even at elementary school age. It was also unexpected to discover how it’s not bullying victims, but bullies themselves who are most likely to get seriously hurt,” says the study’s first author Katelyn Jetelina, assistant professor at the university, in a release. “This suggests the act of bullying may not necessarily be violent enough for victims to sustain serious injuries, and that bullies may be involved in other harmful behaviors.”

Jetelina and her team gathered data from Healthy Passages, a study of children and their primary caregivers from fifth to tenth grade between 2004 and 2011 conducted by a team of interdisciplinary researchers.

The study showed that boys were 22% more prone to violent injuries than girls, while black children were 30% more likely to be a victim than any other race or ethnicity. Meanwhile, children whose parents were widowed had 60% greater probability of suffering an injury.

“The evidence suggests perpetrators are engaging in various risky behaviors in addition to bullying. This builds as they get older, which may indicate involvement in gangs, as well as drug and alcohol use,” says Jetelina, who notes that the statistics may actually be worse than what they’ve calculated due to underreporting from victims.

The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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