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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 6, 2008

Study: War can lead to long-term 'epidemic' of firearms injuries to children

A University of Iowa study investigating weapons-related injuries and deaths among Croatian children shows that high rates of injury and death may continue for at least five years following a war's end, illustrating the need for firearm prevention programs as part of war reparation efforts.

Corinne Peek-Asa, Ph.D., professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health, co-led the study through the International Collaborative Training in Injury and Trauma Research Program, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fogarty International Center. The program is designed to build infrastructure for trauma and injury prevention in Croatia and nearby countries.

"In our early work, we realized that the war continues to have important health effects in many of these countries, yet little data is available on the topic," said Peek-Asa, who also is director of the UI Injury Prevention Research Center.

Peek-Asa and her colleagues investigated homicide, suicide and unintentional weapons-related deaths among children from birth to age 19 in Croatia during and after the Homeland War, also known as the Third Balkan War, which took place between 1991 and 1995 and led to the break-up of former Yugoslavia. The results showed that these rates all increased more than threefold during the war, and the effects persisted for five years following the conflict.

"It was surprising to us that deaths from war weapons influenced all types of injuries, not just war-associated injuries. The effects were most pronounced for suicide," Peek-Asa said. "We were also surprised to see that the effects persisted long after the war, and most of these intentional deaths were caused by firearms, not by explosive devices."

The findings are the first to identify these persistent effects on children, who were not directly involved in the Croatian war effort as child soldiers have been in other wars. According to the researchers, the psychological effects of war on children, combined with an increased presence of weapons, may present a particularly important area for prevention, as previous studies have documented unsafe firearm storage practices with adolescents in the home.

Peek-Asa and her colleagues view the study's results as an indication that firearm prevention programs should be implemented as part of war reparation efforts and that a more organized international strategy on small-arms trade is needed.

"The U.S. is a major political influence throughout the world, and we also have one of the largest health research infrastructures in the world," Peek-Asa said. "Thus, the U.S. is an important partner in conducting health outcomes research and also in helping develop international policies to protect vulnerable populations."

The study appears in the February issue of the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032,; Writer: Brandy Huseman