Homicide is the largest contributor to potential years of life lost among black Americans, according to a new study published today in PLOS ONE and conducted by researchers at Indiana University School of Public Health – Bloomington. The measure of potential years of life lost – the number of years a person would have lived had they not died of a particular cause – to homicide was 12th for white Americans.
Although black Americans are disproportionately affected by homicide, the amount invested in homicide research is dramatically underrepresented in public health, according to Dr. Molly Rosenberg, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at IU Bloomington.
“Homicide is, unfortunately, a common cause of premature death, and black Americans are more likely to be affected by homicide than white Americans,” said Dr. Rosenberg. “Homicide-related deaths in America, most of which are caused by firearms, constitute a public health crisis. Yet when we look at what kind of public health research gets funded and published, we find homicide to be conspicuously absent.”
Heart disease, white Americans’ number one cause of potential years of life lost, received 341 grants and almost 600 publications during 2015; homicide received just a handful of federal grants and publications.
The IU study reviewed all deaths of white and black Americans in 2015 and calculated the potential years of life lost for each of 31 causes of death. By reviewing potential years of life lost instead of simply number of annual deaths, the study was better able to capture the loss of human potential as well as the burden of premature deaths. In addition to the emotional and psychological devastation of a homicide, premature death can have long-lasting economic consequences.
“If we look at the estimated value of remaining lifetime productivity for a 31-year-old American, which is the average age of death for black Americans killed by homicide, it’s more than $1.5 million,” Dr. Rosenberg said. “The more premature a death, the greater the loss in economic productivity for the family, community and society. This loss of human potential can push families into poverty and societies toward heightened inequality.”
The more than 2.7 million deaths in the U.S. in 2015 tallied up to nearly 21.4 million potential years of life lost. Black Americans accounted for 20 percent of these years despite representing only 13 percent of the U.S. population. This incredible number of potential years of life lost brings focus to deaths with high societal and economic impact.
“Homicide research is dramatically underrepresented in public health research in terms of grant funding and publications,” Dr. Rosenberg said. “This lack of investment threatens to perpetuate a system that disadvantages the health of black Americans.”
This study was co-authored by Ms. Ashley Townes, a doctoral student at IU Bloomington; Dr. Shabbar Ranapurwala at UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health; and Dr. Angela Bengtson at Brown University School of Public Health.