Monday, April 18, 2011

People Take Their Anger Over Economy Out on Babies, Study Shows

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The number of babies with non-accidental head injuries has gone up as the economy has gone down. Credit: Getty Images

Every now and again, you read a story that fills you with hope and restores your faith in humanity.

This isn't one of them.

People are taking their anger and frustration with the recession out on babies.

Researchers at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland have found the number of babies with non-accidental head injuries has gone up as the economy has gone down. By "non-accidental" they mean some dirt-bag has hurt a baby on purpose.

Non-accidental head trauma is also what used to be called shaken baby syndrome. That's when a person violently shakes a baby, causing injuries and sometimes death.

"The reasons for why this is happening are beyond the scope of our study, but it may be that more parents are stressed to the breaking point because of economic problems like unemployment and foreclosures," lead author Mary I. Huang, a fourth-year medical student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, tells US News & World Report.

"In many cases, when people are forced to leave their homes, they may be moving in with relatives who might not have as much of a vested interest in taking care of infants," Huang adds.

Huang presented her findings April 13 at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons' meeting in Denver. Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

However, according to US News & World Report, her findings confirm a 2010 study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. Researchers in that study looked at cases of non-accidental head injury among infants and young children from 2004 through 2009 in four urban children's hospitals.

The researchers found the cases doubled when the recession started in December 2007.

Huang and her fellow researchers saw similar numbers in their study.

"We really weren't expecting to see such a big increase," she tells the magazine. "It was pretty startling for all of us."

Robert Block, professor and chair of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, tells US News the data wasn't all that startling to him.

"We know that times of increased stress may be more dangerous for babies, and so it makes sense that in a recession, where there are all kinds of very stressful situations, we would see an uptick in these kinds of injuries," he tells the magazine.

Block, who is president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, adds that cuts to social services programs in recent years haven't helped.

"Cutting services that support children and families is a terribly wrong-headed move, because the babies who are affected, if they survive, will have lifelong consequences as a result of this violent abuse," he tells the magazine.

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