From Our 2010 Archives

Seasonality of Child Abuse Could Be a Myth

WEDNESDAY, June 23 (HealthDay News) -- Rates of child abuse in the United States are steady throughout the year and don't increase during the winter, says a new study challenging the widespread belief that there are more cases in the winter months, especially during the holiday season.

Indiana University School of Medicine researchers analyzed the death certificates of 797 children younger than age 5 who were murdered in Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma and Washington between 1999 and 2006. A child's risk of dying from child abuse stays steady throughout the year, the researchers concluded.

Two-thirds of the deaths were in children younger than 2.

"The seasonality of child abuse is clearly a myth," study leader Dr. Antoinette Laskey, an associate professor of pediatrics, said in a university news release. "It is possible that the reason child abuse is believed to increase during the holidays is because an abused child seen on a memorable day like Christmas may be easier for a health-care provider to recall because of the association with the holiday."

"Since there is no reason to believe that child abuse deaths occur at differing rates throughout the year, it is important to keep in mind that prevention should be a year-round effort," said Laskey, who is a physician at Riley Hospital for Children. "The fact is common stressors on caregivers, like crying, toileting accidents and normal childhood behavioral issues such as temper tantrums happen all year long. We need to teach caregivers how to respond better to these issues."

The study appears online and in the July print issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: Indiana University School of Medicine, June 21, 2010, news release.