WASHINGTON — Injuries kill 140,000 Americans annually and are the leading cause of death for persons under 44, making injury the nation's most expensive health problem, a National Academy of Sciences panel said Tuesday.
"Injury is the last major plague of the young," the committee said in a congressionally mandated report to the Transportation Department.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of severe injury and death from injuries, followed by firearms, falls and jumps, drownings, poisonings and fires and burns, the report said.
It said injury costs the nation an estimated $75 billion to $100 billion a year, making it the most costly of all major health problems.
Injuries kill more Americans between the ages of 1 and 34 than all diseases combined, and males are more than twice as likely to suffer fatal injuries. After age 44, heart disease and cancer each surpass injuries as the major causes of death.
Injury death rates generally are higher in rural areas, the report said. The study also found that "the burden of injury rests disproportionately on the poor."
"High-risk jobs, low-quality housing, older cars and such hazardous products as space heaters tend to be concentrated among poorer people," the panel found. It said the death rate from unintended injury is twice as high in low-income areas than high-income areas.
Alcohol plays a role in virtually all types of injury, even among young teen-agers. The report said almost half of fatally injured drivers and substantial numbers of passengers and pedestrians were found to have significant amounts of alcohol in their blood, as did many of those killed in falls, drownings, fires, assaults and suicides.
"In both highway and non-highway events, the more severe the event, the higher the percentage in which alcohol plays a role," the report said.