HealthDay News — The overall death rate from unintentional injury fell 29% among children aged younger than 19 years from 2000 to 2009, a review of U.S. mortality data indicate, yet it remains the leading cause of death in this age group.

Despite overall improvements in mortality, poisoning-related deaths increased among teens — mostly due to prescription drug overdoses– and suffocation-related deaths among infants also increased, Julie Gilchrist, MD, from the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and colleagues reported in Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report.

“The frequency and cost of child and adolescent unintentional injury deaths, along with the effectiveness of existing public health interventions, make injury prevention a priority for improving the health of children and adolescents,” they wrote.

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The researchers analyzed mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System collected from 2000 to 2009 and found that deaths due to unintentional injury decreased from 15.5 per 100,000 population in 2000 to 11 per 100,000 in 2009, accounting for a total of 9,143 deaths that year.

For all age groups younger than 19 years there was a decrease in mortality, with the exception of infants aged younger than 1 year, in whom mortality increased from 23.1 to 27.7 deaths per 100,000, mainly due to an increase in suffocations. Suffocation deaths increased 54% from 13.8 to 21.3 per 100,000 over the 9-year period.

Among teenagers aged 15 to 19, there was a 91% increase of deaths attributable to poisoning, from 1.7 to 3.3 deaths per 100,000, partially due to an increase in prescription drug overdoses.

Motor vehicle traffic-related deaths rates decreased 41%, from 9.3 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 5.5 per 100,000 people in 2009, but still remained the leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths in those younger than 19 years.

Despite the overall reductions in mortality for patients 19 and younger, the U.S. still has higher death rates compared with other developed countries for that same age group.

Study limitations include possible misclassification errors on death certificates and unintentional injury death reporting, which may underestimate the total burden of accidental injury on society.

Gilchrist J et al. MMWR 2012; 61.