What Does Violence Have to Do With Public Health?

Alison Grodzinski Blog Posts 7 Comments

By: Susan Morrel-Samuels, MA, MPH, MI-YVPC Managing Director

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, violence in the U.S. causes approximately 50,000 deaths a year and over 2 million injuries. In 2007, 18,000 people were victims of homicide and 34,000 people took their own lives.  Let’s think about that for a moment.  Cities like Sheboygan, Wisconson, Ames, Iowa, and Biloxi, Mississippi, have populations of about 50,000.  Imagine all the people in one of these cities being wiped off the map in one year by homicide and suicide.

These deaths and injuries have enormous costs – to our health care system, our legal system, our communities, and most of all to the families left behind.  Public health professionals have a term for one of these costs, “productive lives lost”.  That means that the costs extend for years beyond the violent event in the form of lives that are not lived and the gaps they leave in the fabric of families and neighborhoods.

Some say that violence is basically a crime issue that should be dealt with exclusively by law enforcement.  While law enforcement is very important, the problem with this approach is that by the time the police, courts and prisons get into the act the damage has already been done.

In contrast, public health focuses on prevention – on how to make changes in the environment and in individual attitudes and behaviors that will reduce the likelihood of deaths and injuries from violence.


In fact, researchers have developed very effective ways of preventing injuries – one example of success is motor vehicles.  Deaths from automobile crashes have been greatly reduced even though there are more cars on the road than ever.  Seat belts and airbags keep our heads from crashing through windshields.  Guardrails keep our cars from careening into oncoming traffic. Graduated licensing prepares new drivers to avoid risky driving behaviors.


What does this have to do with  violence? 

First, we can provide experiences for youth that prepare them to solve problems at home and in their communities in peaceful ways.

Second, we can improve the safety of neighborhoods by creating clean, attractive and well lighted spaces for people to interact and eliminating blight and neglect.

Third, we can work with law enforcement to identify locations and patterns of violence in order to improve the effectiveness of police intervention.

Fourth, we can reduce the number of illegal weapons in circulation.

Finally, we can organize communities to strengthen connections among neighbors and address conditions that lead to conflict.

There is no one solution to violence.  Yet, through public health approaches to prevention, violence can become an increasingly rare event.

Comments 7

  1. It is interesting to see how much violence can wipe out a whole entire population. I think it is very important to educate youth about how violence and homicide can harm not only the individuals but the community as well. Teaching youth to learn to have a safe community is important because they are the younger population and teaching them helps pass the word to other youths and how to use different strategies to cope with conflict. Another thing that is very concerning in the state of California that definitely should be taught to youth is texting while driving. Texting while driving has become a serious issues not just among youth but all ages as well. Educating youth and letting them now the seriousness of texting while driving should be a new form of program that could educate youth in preventing crime or homicide.

  2. It is very unfortunate to learn about the number deaths in the U.S. associated with violence, homicides, and suicides. I personally feel that one of the greatest ways to help combat this issue is through education. The youth of America must be educated and well informed of the dangers and impacts that violence can have not only on themselves, but on others who may be victims of this type of behavior. Although educating individuals at a young age on this topic may become a controversial in the U.S., I believe it would have the greatest success in reducing violence. When targeting elementary school children (such as educating them), it will not only discourage these youths from using violence with one another, but it was also facilitate youths to inform the adults who are educating them if they are experiencing violence at home or in their neighborhood. I also greatly agree with the points you make that multiple institutions must come together and all use the resources they have to clean up the streets, be proactive, and assist in strengthening community bonds.

  3. It is a shocking realization of how a city can be completely wiped out from acts of violence an a year. Violence has many negative impacts in the world but the most important of them all is the notion of putting emotional pain on someones family. it is the most harsh realization that a loved one has passed away but it is most painful when it comes in the hands of violence. it is key to educate our youth on the consequences that can occur in acting in a wrongful manner. The more they can learn from adults, the more they realize what is wrong from right. It is the responsibility for the adults to hand down their knowledge and set forth a good example for them to follow.

  4. The article was interesting because it showed how violence relates to public health. In my opinion I think that preventing deaths from car accidents is easier than teaching people about violence. In order to educate people about violence, people have to be willing to learn. Not many people are going to sacrifice an evening or a weekend. Jobs now in days are demanding and require forty hours or more a week. Once a solution has been created to get people involved, the six steps to reduce crime seem like a great idea. I think that getting the youth involved is a great idea. If young people like teenagers are taught to solve problems at home or in the communities, those life skills will carry over into adulthood. Reducing the number of illegal weapons that are circulating would reduce crime rates drastically. I think that the reducing illegal weapons is only the tip of the iceberg. Drugs can be imported from anywhere in the world. Strengthening community connections I think is one of the best tools we can use to reduce crime. Neighbors can keep an out for suspicious people. When suspicious people are noticed they can call the police and prevent a crime before it occurs. If the steps are used correctly crimes would decrease. Cost and congestion would also benefit the health care system, legal system, our communities, and families left behind.

  5. The crime in communities affects not only the victims and criminals but the community as a whole. I believe that prevention is a long term solution that may be accomplished through youth programs and after school activities. I also believe that crime is not the sole responsibility of law enforcement. The prevention of crime requires the communities involvement especially in providing law enforcement with information on criminal activity. I strongly believe in after school programs to prevent crime especially sports which provide a healthy team environment. I also believe in community involvement to provide quality school, parks, and youth centers to prevent crime. It is a difficult task involving the effort of families, law enforcement, and the community as a whole to prevent crime. It is possible to accomplish these goals through community policing in which law enforcement establishes personal relationships with individuals in the community that provide meaningful results.

  6. Crime is preventable and needs to be treated as such. I agree with the writer that once law enforcement gets involved, a crime has already happened so there needs to be measures in place to stop the crime from happening. The numbers of lives lost to violence, by others or self-harm is increasing and seems like there is no sign of slowing down. Communities need to come up with a plan to prevent violence in their neighborhoods. I think that steps like the ones that the author mentioned would greatly help communities. Children and young adults need to be taught that violence is not an answer to a problem. They also need to have people in their lives to talk to about their home lives, in case there is a problem there and no one to talk to. Afterschool programs would solve this problem because it would take up more free time when kids can get in trouble and would give kids other adults to talk to and use as role models. Community anger management and parenting classes could help too. Neighborhoods need to be cleaned and maintained so that they are safe for the inhabitants to walk around. If people take pride in their neighborhood, they might be less inclined to allow crime and neglect to happen. Neighborhood watch programs should be established in conjunction with the local police department to maintain the safety of the neighborhood. Hopefully, measures like these will help prevent future crimes.