Is summer the deadliest time for kids?

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Tragedy on World's Tallest Waterslide

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The headlines have been tough to read lately.

A 10-year-old was fatally injured in a waterslide accident while the boy's family was enjoying a day at the water park. A 3-year-old was pitched from a roller coaster in Pennsylvania. Twins in Georgia died when their father apparently left them in his hot car. In North Carolina, a boy is fighting for his life -- after being bitten by a mosquito.

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The stories are tragic -- the stuff that parent’s nightmares are made of, especially when they come at the time of year that children should be their most carefree. After a week of news of amusement park accidents, hot car deaths and drownings, it begs the question, is summertime the most dangerous season for our kids?

A look at statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with other agencies that track children's mortality rates paints a complex picture. When it comes to seasonal mortality rates, research shows more adults die in January than at any other time of the year, but for kids, the numbers are slightly different.

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The rates of death for children increase, albeit slightly, during the summer months on average.

Emergency room doctors have called the summer months "the trauma season," because of an increase in the numbers of patients they see. According to the CDC, approximately 2.7 million children in the United States are treated for accidental injuries during an average summer season, with nearly 3,000 of those children dying. The majority die from unintentional injuries. For children age 1-14, the No. 1 cause of death is accidents. 

The National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths reported that in 2012, some 13,804 children ages 1-17 died nationwide, 6,941 from unintentional injury, homicide or suicide.  An estimated 42 percent of all childhood injury deaths and 40 percent of all childhood injury-related emergency room visits occur between May and August, according to the Safe Kids website.

This increase in mortality rates for children in summer makes sense as kids are off from school and more likely to be in situations that could lead to tragedy -- drownings from being in pools or at the beach, car accidents involving summer travel or heat-related deaths.

Adults (ages 24 and older) are, by far, more likely to die of natural causes during winter than they are during summer – with a typical January registering up to 60,000 more deaths than a typical August, the CDC reports.

Why?

It's not just because it’s cold outside -- in Southern climates, the trends holds true -- nor is it because of viruses  associated with cold weather, like influenza.

According to a story by The Washington Post, sociology professor David Phillips examined seasonal mortality in the United States from 1979 to 2004 – some 58 million deaths -- and  determined, "This pattern (of more deaths in January) turns up in every natural cause of death, but not for external causes like auto accidents. It's hard to understand why that would be."

Phillips' study showed that death rates for adults in the United States are at their lowest in late summer, and rise during the week between Christmas and New Year's, with New Year's Day being the peak.

One might think traveling during the holidays or drinking or other risky activities on New Year’s Eve may have something to do with it, but Phillips’ research showed something different.

Phillips’ study was of  death certificates for people who died of natural causes in emergency room settings. His research showed for each year studied, a continuing pattern in spikes in deaths during the last week of the year, peaking on New Year’s Day.

Even when he took out the deaths attributed to pneumonia, flu, drug overdoses and alcohol-related incidences, the spike was still there.

While no one really knows the reason, Phillips did speculate in the Washington Post article that it could be a function of a short-staffed emergency room, creating a longer wait for medical care. Others have suggest people "postpone" dying until after the holiday season.

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