Public health officials in the state of Alabama routinely assess threats to community health and make recommendations for action that help prevent the occurrence of injury, illness, and death to its citizens. In 2014, members of the Alabama Department of Health sourced 19 experts in the field of public health to complete a community health assessment for the entire state. The information that data experts gathered and analyzed produced some interesting findings, especially with regard to what Alabamians find most concerning regarding their health and safety.

The citizens of Alabama outlined common concerns, such as access to quality medical care and mental health services. Ranked 11th on the list was the threat of injury and violence. Based on the concern, public health officials sought to understand more about the role violence and injury play on mortality within the state. The results were enlightening and helped form the groundwork for action, which officials hope to implement to save lives.

Assessing Threats of Violence and Injury

The most reliable form of assessment regarding injury and violence is death certificate data from the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Center for Health Statistics. Researchers examined the data with regard to homicide, accidental poisoning, and motor vehicle accidents. They found that injury and violence are, in fact, the number one cause of potential lives lost, a metric public health officials use to determine the magnitude of a problem, especially concerning young people. By subtracting a person’s age from the average life expectancy, officials can calculate the potential years of life lost as the result of violence and other forms of accidental injury.

Concerning homicide mortality, minorities are overrepresented in the data. Compared to the rest of the nation, Alabama also has a very high rate of motor vehicle accident mortality, which means citizens are more likely to die in motor vehicle crashes compared to residents of other states. Lastly, males are significantly more likely to die from accidents or violence compared to other populations.

Statistics on Injury and Violence in Alabama

Accidental injuries were the leading cause of death in 2013, which ADPH considers the most complete data year. In the same year, homicide was the 15th leading cause of death. According to death certificate data, accidental injury and homicide disproportionately affect young people. African-Americans are far more likely to die by homicide than Caucasians, as they are five times more likely to be victims. Alabama residents also experience high rates of car crashes, motorcycle accidents, and other accidental injuries.

How Can We Reduce Violence and Injury-Related Deaths?

Since accidental forms of death and injury represent the highest cause of potential years lost, it is important to identify strategies that could reduce mortality and save lives. The Alabama Department of Public Health identified several steps that could help prevent death and serious injury.

  • Improve seat belt use, which can help prevent deaths and serious injuries related to motor vehicle accidents.
  • Remove barriers to access to mental health services, notably anger management, to reduce the number of homicide deaths.
  • Increase helmet use among motorcyclists to prevent the occurrence of head injury and death.
  • Promote education that reduces death or serious injury from risky or reckless decision-making.

Injury and violence continue to claim the lives of Alabamians each year, and they are most likely to affect the youngest members of our population. Deaths from injury and violence are tragic, but they are also preventable. By enhancing education, improving the use of helmets and seatbelts, and making quality care more accessible, public health officials can help reduce the amount of injury and death that occurs each year.