Youth Mortality Rates Highest in Decades

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March 2023 discovered that the mortality rate for children and teens in the United States surged in 2020 and 2021. Pediatric deaths increased nearly 11% in 2020 and more than 8% in 2021, which were the largest upticks in decades. The increased rate was primarily from fatal injuries from firearms, drugs or cars.

Covid-19 mortality rates doubled among children between 2020 and 2021, but still only explained about a fifth of the total increase in mortality, according to the study. Instead, firearms accounted for nearly half of the increase. Infants are the only age group that did not see a significant increase in mortality with most of the surge due to deaths among older children. For those ages 10 to 19, injury mortality increased 23% between 2019 and 2020 – including homicides that jumped 39% and drug overdoses that more than doubled. Increased access to firearms and opioids, as well as the deepening mental health crisis among youth all probably contributed to the large increases.

The study authors suggested that research and policy efforts were urgently needed to address the underlying causes of these injuries, such as depression, suicide, opioid use, systemic racism, widening inequities, and societal conflict.

What can parents do?

These new statistics can feel scary, but there are things parents can do to protect their children:

  • Monitor teens for signs of depression, anxiety, and/or suicide and, if you see any signs, get professional help from your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional right away.
  • Lock up firearms and discuss firearm safety with your teens. Read our previous blog on gun safety.
  • Discuss the risks of drug use with your teen. In particular, let teens know that many drugs sold on the street, even those appearing to be legitimate prescription pills, are drugs that were made in the underground market laced with fentanyl. Read our previous blog about fentanyl.
  • Reiterate the importance of careful driving. Role model the use of, and discuss the importance of, seatbelts. Remind teens to never drive under the influence of a drug and to never ride with someone who has used a drug. Discuss the importance of avoiding distractions while operating a motor vehicle, and provide specific examples of distractions. Your teen should pull over to text, take a phone call, eat food, or even to have important conversations or arguments with people in the car.

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