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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1996  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1996   
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Contents >> Health >> Causes of Death: Accidental death of children

Mortality and Morbidity: Accidental death of children

In 1994, accidents were the most common cause of death among children aged 1-14 years.

Accidents are a major cause of preventable death among children. Understanding the nature and circumstances of childhood accidents can assist those developing accident prevention strategies and programs. Some accident prevention strategies already in place in Australia include legislation on bicycle helmet use, swimming pool fencing and lower speed limits in school zones.

Kidsafe, formerly known as the Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia, was established in the International Year of the Child (1979). Its purpose is to focus on the prevention of unintentional child injury and death. The organisation contributes to the development of Australian standards, and provides policy advice to various government departments and ministers, other agencies and the public1.


Accidental death

The data presented in this review are from the ABS Causes of Death collection, which is compiled from data provided by state and territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In this collection accidental death refers to deaths from accidents or poisonings which occurred without obvious human intention to produce them. It includes deaths due to motor vehicle accidents, accidental poisoning, accidental falls, drowning, fires and inhalation or ingestion of foreign bodies such as buttons, marbles etc. It comprises International Classification of Diseases codes E800-E929.

A child is any person under the age of 15.


Accidental deaths
In 1994, 13% of child deaths were caused by accidents. However, this proportion appears low due to the relatively large numbers of perinatal deaths and deaths due to congenital anomalies among children in their first year of life. Among children aged 1-14, accidents were the leading cause of death, accounting for one-third of all deaths in this age group. In comparison 3% of deaths among adults were accidental.

Between 1984 and 1994, 4,724 children died as a result of accidents. The death rate from accidents among children fell from 13 to 8 per 100,000 children over the period. This decrease was largest among children aged 0-4. In this age group the death rate due to accidents fell from 19 to 11 deaths per 100,000 children. This is mainly due to decreases in the number of children aged 0-4 dying from motor vehicle traffic accidents and from accidents involving submersion, suffocation and foreign bodies. These decreases are probably linked to the introduction of legislation on the use of baby capsules in cars, as well as laws in most states and territories making fencing around swimming pools compulsory.

SELECTED CAUSES OF DEATH OF CHILDREN, 1994

Under 1 year
1-4 years
5-9 years
10-14 years
Total
Cause of death
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.

Perinatal conditions
684
7
1
0
692
Congenital anomalies
454
46
15
21
536
Accidents
22
118
69
82
291
Malignant neoplasms
6
46
51
59
162
Diseases of the nervous system
35
45
22
20
122
Respiratory diseases
25
19
3
10
57
All deaths
1,512
361
196
248
2,317

Source: Causes of Death, Australia (unpublished data)

ACCIDENTAL DEATHS PER 100,000 CHILDREN



Sources: Causes of Death, Australia (unpublished data); Estimated Resident Population, by Sex and Age, States and Territories of Australia (cat. no. 3201.0)


Who dies?
In 1994, almost half (48%) of all children who died from accidents were aged 0-4. This was followed by those aged 10-14, who made up 28% of all accidental deaths. The majority of children who died from accidents were boys (61%). This was true for all age groups and most types of accidents.

Between 1992 and 1994, child accidental deaths were most common in the Northern Territory with an average annual rate of 23 per 100,000 children. This high rate is mainly due to the number of deaths caused by submersion, suffocation and foreign bodies. The next highest rate was 12 deaths per 100,000 children in Queensland. Victoria had the lowest death rate from accidents at 7 per 100,000 children. In every state and territory children under 5 were the most likely to die from an accident.

CHILD ACCIDENTAL DEATH RATE(a), 1992-1994

0-4 years
5-9 years
10-14 years
Total
State(b)
rate
rate
rate
rate

New South Wales
12.2
6.4
6.3
8.4
Victoria
11.4
4.8
5.5
7.3
Queensland
17.5
8.2
9.4
11.7
South Australia
13.1
8.2
6.0
9.1
Western Australia
14.1
5.1
7.4
8.8
Tasmania
13.4
9.2
7.4
9.9
Northern Territory
35.5
16.8
13.9
22.6
Australian Capital Territory
14.6
9.0
4.5
9.4
Australia
13.6
6.6
6.9
9.0

(a) Average annual deaths per 100,000 children.
(b) Refers to state/territory of registration.

Sources: Causes of Death, Australia (unpublished data); Estimated Resident Population by Sex and Age, States and Territories of Australia (cat. no. 3201.0)


International comparison
In 1992, Australia had a child accidental death rate of 9 per 100,000 children. Of the countries selected, the child accidental death rate for New Zealand was highest, at 15 per 100,000 children in 1991, followed by USA with a rate of 13 per 100,000 in 1990. Hong Kong had the lowest rate at 6 per 100,000 children in 1991.
ACCIDENTAL DEATHS PER 100,000 CHILDREN, SELECTED COUNTRIES

Year
Deaths
Country
rate

Australia
1992
9.2
Canada
1991
9.1
France
1991
10.6
Hong Kong
1991
5.6
Italy
1990
6.5
Japan
1992
8.0
New Zealand
1991
14.8
Sweden
1990
5.0
UK
1992
6.0
USA
1990
13.3

Source: World Health Organisation (1993) World Health Statistics Annual

Type of accidental death
Motor vehicle traffic accidents are the most common cause of all accidental deaths in Australia (see Motor vehicle traffic accidents). In 1994, 127 children were killed in motor vehicle traffic accidents, accounting for 44% of all child accidental deaths. 32% of these children were killed in accidents involving a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, 27% were killed in accidents involving two motor vehicles and 11% were killed in accidents involving a motor vehicle and another vehicle, such as a bicycle.

Children killed in accidents involving a motor vehicle and a pedestrian were most likely to be aged 10-14 (39%). This was followed by those aged 5-9 (37%). Children killed in accidents involving two motor vehicles were most likely to be aged 0-4 (50%).

The second most common cause of accidental deaths among children was submersion, suffocation and foreign bodies. In 1994, 84 children died from accidents caused by submersion, suffocation and foreign bodies, accounting for 29% of child accidental deaths. 76% of these deaths were due to drowning. 75% of children who died from drowning were aged 0-4. The death rate for drowning among children has decreased over the past decade, from 2.5 deaths per 100,000 children in 1984 to 1.7 deaths in 1994. This decrease was largest among those aged 0-4, from 5.7 in 1984 to 3.7 in 1994.

In 1994, the majority of child deaths due to drowning occurred when a child fell or wandered into water (58%). 62% of child deaths from falling or wandering into water occurred in a swimming pool, and 24% occurred in a lake, lagoon, dam or water-hole.

The second most common type of death from drowning occurred when a child was swimming, paddling or wading (27%). 47% of child deaths from swimming, paddling or wading occurred in a lake, lagoon, dam or water-hole, and 35% occurred in a swimming pool.

ACCIDENTAL DEATHS OF CHILDREN, 1994

0-4 years
5-9 years
10-14 years
Total
Type of accidental death
%
%
%
%

Motor vehicle traffic accidents
27.9
53.6
62.2
43.6
Accidents caused by submersion, suffocation and foreign bodies
45.7
20.3
7.3
28.9
Accidents caused by fire and flames
10.0
10.1
4.9
8.6
Motor vehicle non-traffic accidents(a)
6.4
2.9
3.7
4.8
Accidental poisoning
1.4
0.0
3.6
1.7
Accidental falls
0.7
1.4
2.4
1.4
Other
7.9
11.6
15.9
11.0
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Refers to any motor vehicle accident which occurs entirely in any place other than a public highway.

Source: Causes of Death, Australia (unpublished data)

CHILD DEATHS FROM DROWNING OR SUBMERSION, 1994

0-4 years
5-9 years
10-14 years
Total
Type of accidental drowning
no.
no.
no.
no.

Fell or wandered into water
34
3
0
37
Swimming, paddling or wading
7
7
3
17
Drowned in bathtub
7
0
1
8
Other
0
1
1
2
Total
48
11
5
64

Source: Causes of Death, Australia (unpublished data)


Endnotes
1 Department of Human Services and Health and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1994) Injury prevention and control in Australia: a review of current programs and activities.

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