Newswise — U.S. children today are more apt to die from a violent weapon attack than from cancer or diabetes, according to a new study co-authored by Sherry L. Hamby, a research professor in psychology at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, TN.

The study, recently featured in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal, reports one in four U.S. school children between the ages of 6-17 have been exposed to violence involving a weapon in their lifetime as either a victim or a witness. Those weapons included guns, knives, rocks and sticks.

“Weapons-based violence is one of the largest public health crises affecting children in the U.S., and the top 10 causes of injury-related death for youth,’’ said Hamby. The rates of exposure to weapon violence for children are even higher than the rates of suicide, caregiver mistreatment and sexual victimization.

More than 2 million youth in the U.S. have been directly assaulted in incidents where guns or knives were used. Any victimization with a weapon was more common among boys (23.9%) than girls (18.4 %), increased with age and was reported more frequently by youth living in low socioeconomic households. And youth exposed to gangs are twice as likely as those who are not at risk with gangs to report being victimized by weapons.

However, the researchers were quick to point out that on an individual level, some youth in high-crime communities may find it difficult to escape violent attacks. That scenario, say the researchers, suggests a public health approach is essential to curb violence among children.

The researchers recommend that any child who has experienced victimization should be screened for exposure to weapon violence. The study also suggests improvements to gun safety practices and reducing children’s exposure to weapon-involved violence.

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American Academy of Pediatrics