Aboriginal children experience high burden of unintentional injury, study finds

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more than one and a half times more likely to be hospitalised for unintentional injuries than non-Aboriginal children new research shows, prompting calls for more targeted child injury prevention programs.

The study, led by UNSW and conducted in partnership with the George Institute for Global Health, Australian National University, and University of Wollongong, is the first to investigate differences in hospitalisation rates for unintentional injury between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children in Australia, using linked data to follow children from birth to age 13 years.

The results suggest Aboriginal children suffer a disproportionately high burden of unintentional injury, and the gap between the two groups is wider than previously thought.

Researchers analysed hospital and mortality data for more than 1.12 million children born in a NSW hospital between 2000 and 2012. Of these, 35,749 children were identified as Aboriginal.

The study found a much higher risk of injury, requiring hospitalisation, for Aboriginal children from poisoning, burns and transportation-related causes compared to non-Aboriginal children.

It found only a small difference in the risk of hospitalisation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children for falls, which is the leading type of unintentional injury in all Australian children.

One of the study authors, Professor Rebecca Ivers, Director of The George Institute’s Injury Division, said: “Having quantification of data like this is really important because it helps drive investment. Really what we have to remember is that Aboriginal children are overrepresented with unintentional injury. 

“Unintentional injury is preventable. It's telling us that we're not sufficiently investing in appropriately targeted preventative programs for children. 

“That means developing programs that are culturally appropriate and that are delivered in cultural safety with Aboriginal leadership. It's telling us that we're not getting it right at the moment and we need to spend more money and time thinking about how best to actually prevent these injuries,” said Prof Ivers.

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.