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Violence, Like Other Public Health Threats, Is Preventable At the Source

by Phaedra Corso

Phaedra Shaffer Corso
Associate professor,
Health Policy and Management
UGA College of Public Health

BA, Political Science,
UGA - 1989
MPA, Public Finance,
UGA - 1991
PhD, Health Policy, Harvard University - 2000
Work history

2006-present: UGA
1991-2006: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
For the last decade, Corso worked as a health economist at CDC; during the last four years of her tenure at CDC, she worked in the Division of Violence Prevention in the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

Economic evaluation of prevention interventions, quality of life assessment in vulnerable populations
UGARF 2007, sub-contracts through CDC
Introduction to Health Policy and Management, Advanced Topics in Health Policy, Economic Evaluation in Health and Medicine
Other service
Corso serves on the state advisory committee for Healthy Families Georgia, an organization dedicated to preventing child maltreatment. She also serves on the board of the Families Relations Program, headquartered in Gainesville, Georgia, an agency dedicated to stopping sexual abuse


When a Virginia Tech student murdered 32 classmates and then took his own life last April, this single grisly event and its unprecedented toll made shrieking headlines that truly caught our attention. But the more “routine” acts of violence, which often escape our daily notice, have cumulative effects that are far more sobering. In 2000, Americans suffered some 50,000 deaths and 2.2 million medically treated injuries because of violence, and lately the rates have been escalating. The FBI released a report earlier this year showing that violent crimes rose 1.3 percent in 2006, following an increase of 2.5 percent in 2005.

Violence is as much a public health issue as, say, obesity and cardiovascular disease. And although such conditions’ effects could be better treated when they occur, they are best addressed through prevention.

Thus, while it’s necessary to improve emergency trauma care and the acute treatment of violence-related injuries—outcomes depend not only on injuries’ severity but also on the speed and appropriateness of treatment—we must invest in prevention efforts that reduce the likelihood of such injuries occurring in the first place. For example, programs that promote safe-dating practices in high schools have proved effective in reducing intimate-partner violence. And research shows that creating positive school climates and developing social-competence skills among children reduces bullying.

An important statistic is the estimated annual cost of violence—currently, some $70 billion in the United States alone. This figure includes only medical costs and productivity losses and does not reflect the enormous burden on the legal system or the pain, suffering, and reduced quality of life for victims and their families. Therefore that $70-billion figure is just the tip of the iceberg. But because this number is still huge, it does help to persuade legislators to fund the development of tools that prevent violence.

One such tool is the “public health model,” which at its core includes basic medical and epidemiologic research on the magnitude of violence in our society and the factors—individual, family, community, and societal—that promote or protect against it.

There are at least four strategies for improving the public health model as it is applied to violence, with the first being the need for better incidence data. Although aspects of interpersonal and self-inflicted violence are sometimes hidden and difficult to measure, identifying and documenting violent injuries in emergency rooms and other medical-care settings can still be much improved. Physicians and other health care professionals need more training to identify violence, and medical record protocols need augmenting to better capture information about violent events.

Next, the links between exposure to violence and long-term health and social consequences must be more fully investigated. These links, often hard to document, may represent the largest portion of economic costs associated with violence. For example, stress derived from exposure to violence can have devastating consequences for the physical and mental health of victims, even in the absence of physical injuries.

Once the magnitude has been established and risk factors identified, the public health model proceeds with development of programs, policies, and interventions designed to prevent violence. Interdisciplinary research in evaluation, policy analysis, public administration, and health economics leads to scientifically rigorous studies that help determine the efficacy, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of interventions.

Informed by this evidence, the widespread implementation and dissemination of prevention interventions—the last step of the public health model—draws upon skills in health promotion and behavior, education, and communication. The model’s central tenet is that violence, like other health threats, can be addressed at the source as long as our knowledge, resources, and commitment are up to the task.

With its interdisciplinary faculty in epidemiology, statistics, evaluation, sociology, economics, and health policy, the goals of the College of Public Health (CPH) include teaching, research, and service within the public health model. For more information about the CPH, please visit our website at For more information about violence-related injuries and how to prevent violence in our communities, visit



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