Thursday, October 27, 2011

Preventing Violence: Roles for Public Health Agencies

Public health has a role in preventing violence.

Violence is a public health problem that imposes a substantial direct burden on our economy and our entire health care system. Violence creates a ripple effect that has life long effects on the physical and mental health of children, youth, women, men and older adults.

According to a report, “Hidden Costs in Health Care: The Economic Impacts of Violence and Abuse,”

“...evidence suggests that exposure to violence and abuse predispose people to ongoing physical health problems, in part by inducing a state of chronic pain that makes them more sensitive to subsequent stresses … research suggests that prolonged exposure to stress hormones released by the body in response to violence or abuse affect the regulation of the nervous system, as well as the immune, endocrine, and other organ systems…”

For example, a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine reports that sustained child maltreatment has been linked to extreme stress that can disrupt early nervous and immune system development and leave children vulnerable to chronic disease later in life. Survivors of violence and maltreatment are often more susceptible to other negative health behaviors such as smoking and alcohol abuse, and may suffer from anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. And, research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on the effects of adverse childhood experiences found increased risks in adulthood for heart disease, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The complexity of the issue of violence prevention can be overwhelming and effective interventions can only be achieved through collaborative interdisciplinary actions in which public health is a partner. Most importantly, change can only occur if action is taken at all levels of government and society, as well as with individuals, with families and with the community at large. Action to prevent violence requires a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary approach.

According to a recent Safe States publication, “Preventing Violence: Roles for Public Health Agencies” there are many things public health should do to prevent violence:
  • Maximize and coordinate federal investments by providing incentives to align resources at the state and local level and fund strategies rather than discrete projects;
  • Identify connections between different types of violence and other areas of public health concern such as: active living, healthy eating… (click here to learn more and to read "Addressing the Intersection between Violence and Active Living and Healthy Living")
  • Develop and implement policy approaches by recommending positions on proposed legislation; provide information on the effectiveness of existing state or local policies; utilizing surveillance data and identify evidence based strategies.
  • Build local capacity to help local practitioners identify, select and evaluate evidence-informed practices, programs and policies.
Click here to read more about the role of public health in preventing violence.

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