Often lost among the rash of bad economic news is the impact the recession is having on children. But a new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, finds that cases of abusive head trauma, or AHT, have risen since the recession started. The study looked at AHT in three regions of the country: Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania; Seattle and the surrounding area; and Ohio and northern Kentucky. Here, a brief guide to this alarming report:
What exactly is AHT?
Abusive head trauma is caused when a child is violently shaken and the brain rattles against a child's skull. AHT can also occur when a child is dropped or hit sharply in the head. Severe cases of AHT can result in brain damage or death.
What did this study reveal?
Between 2004 and 2009, there were 422 cases of AHT reported in hospital trauma centers in the three areas of the United States that were studied. Before December 2007, there were 8.9 cases of AHT reported for every 100,000 kids. "During the recession, that number rose to 14.7 in every 100,000 kids," representing a 65 percent increase, says Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience. Three-quarters of the children were under the age of 1; most of them suffered brain damage, and 69 of them died.
Are researchers certain this was caused by the recession?
No. To be more certain, experts say they would have to study more children in different regions and across different socioeconomic groups. Otherwise, it's tough to know for sure that the recession caused this spike — or that the spike is a widespread phenomenon. Still, numerous other studies have linked economic woes to cases of child abuse and domestic violence; and these reports have "stoked concerns that abuse was on the rise as the economy worsened," says Eryn Brown at the Los Angeles Times.