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Injury prevention researchers, advocates and practitioners have made extraordinary progress in identifying the risk factors for injury and in proposing interventions to tackle those risks. In several fields, however, we have been less successful at actually formulating, enacting, implementing or enforcing some of those interventions. For example, failure to store firearms in the home so that children are unable to gain access to them has been identified as a risk factor for suicide and unintentional injury.1–4 But laws requiring safe gun storage have been enacted in only 18 US states, and most of these laws provide only modest sanctions.5,6 More generally, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Atlanta, Georgia, US) and the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Maryland, US) have increasingly recognized the importance of improving the translation of research findings into practical interventions.7,8
There are, of course, many different categories of injury interventions, including efforts to modify behavior, products, the physical environment or the social environment to reduce risks.9,10 One important way to achieve any of these intervention goals is through policy change. Policies may be particularly effective because they can be designed to affect large numbers of individuals or institutions at once.
DEFINING INJURY PREVENTION POLICY
What do we mean by “policy”? Different definitions of policy have been proposed depending on the context. One broad definition from the health politics literature is “a series of more or less related activities and their intended and unintended consequences for those concerned”.11 In its influential report The Future of Public Health, the Institute of Medicine identified the three core functions of public health as “assessment, policy development and assurance”. The Institute of Medicine defined policy development as “the process by which society makes decisions about problems, chooses goals and the proper means to …
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