Like diseases, injuries are preventable—they do not occur at random. CDC’s Injury Center uses the same scientific methods to prevent injuries that have been used to prevent disease: carefully describing the problem through surveillance, studying factors that increase or decrease risk for injury, designing and evaluating intervention strategies that target these risk factors, and taking steps to ensure that proven strategies are implemented in communities nationwide.
To solve public health problems—including injuries—CDC uses a systematic process called the public health approach. This approach has four steps: define the problem, identify risk and protective factors, develop and test prevention strategies, and assure widespread adoption of effective injury prevention principles and strategies.
Before we can address an injury problem, we need to know how big the problem is, where it is, and whom it affects. CDC accomplishes this by gathering and analyzing data—processes often called “surveillance.” These data can show us how an injury problem changes over time, alert us to troubling trends in a particular type of injury, and let us know what impact prevention programs are having. Decision makers use these critical data in allocating programs and resources to the areas most in need.
It is not enough to know that a certain type of injury is affecting a certain group of people in a certain area. We also need to know why. What factors put people at risk for that injury? And conversely, what factors protect people from it? CDC conducts and supports research to answer these important questions. Once we have that information, we can develop and implement programs to eliminate or reduce risk factors for injuries and to capitalize on or increase factors that protect people from being injured.
In this step, we put knowledge into action. Using information gathered in our research, CDC develops strategies to prevent particular injury problems. We implement these strategies in communities that are experiencing the problem. And we study the effects of these strategies to determine whether and how well they’re working. We use this information to identify any elements we need to change to eliminate difficulties or increase effectiveness.
What we learn in the developing and testing step has little benefit if we keep the information to ourselves. In this final step of the public health approach, CDC shares its knowledge and may provide funding or expert consultation so that communities can replicate these successful strategies.