Step 2 Identify Causes and Risk Factors

Descriptive studies are usually conducted to determine who is injured, what kinds of injuries are involved, and where, when, and, why those injuries occur. These data provide essential clues to injury causation, and often generate hypotheses that can be investigated with analytical methods.

In some cases, the link between a risk factor and injury is so strong that no additional research is needed. For example, studies of automobile injury show that 50 percent of all fatal crashes and 60 percent of all fatal single-vehicle crashes involve alcohol. 16 In most cases, however, it is necessary to compare the rate of injury among those with a risk factor to the rate of injury in an otherwise similar group without a risk factor. Cohort, quasiexperimental, or experimental designs may be needed to reach a definitive conclusion. When the outcome of interest is rare, and exposure to the risk factor(s) of interest can be shown to precede the injury, case-control studies may be employed. Meticulous attention to methodology is essential to generate valid results and control for the effects of confounding variables.

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