: Sharp rise in firearm deaths among rural Black youth

Firearm-related injuries have been the leading cause of death in children and adolescents in the U.S. since 2020, surpassing motor vehicle crashes. New research from the University of Minnesota shows the sharpest increase in firearm-related mortality over the past decade is not in urban areas but among Black rural youth. 

Historically, firearm-related deaths between ages 1 and 19 have predominantly occurred through homicides among Black urban youth and suicides among white and Indigenous rural youth. The team analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on youth mortality between 1999 and 2022 to determine if historical mortality patterns still exist today.

The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found: 

  • Firearm-related mortality rates increased 35% for all youth between 1999 and 2022, with the greatest increase among Black youth. 
  • For decades, firearm-related deaths among Black youth were far more common in urban areas, but, since 2018, Black rural youth experienced firearm-related mortality rates as high as those of Black urban youth. 
  • The firearm-related mortality rate in Black rural youth quadrupled since 2013. The overwhelming majority of these firearm-related deaths were homicides. 
  • In 2013, when Black rural youth firearm deaths began to rise, Black and white rural youth had a similar risk of dying from firearms.  In 2022, Black rural youth died from firearms at four times the rate of white rural youth.

“Firearm-related homicide is no longer an issue that disproportionately affects Black urban youth, it now impacts all Black youth,” said lead author Allison Lind, a graduate student in the School of Public Health and trainee at the Minnesota Population Center (MPC). “This significant increase in firearm-related deaths in the last decade underscores the urgent need for public health attention to better understand and prevent these deaths.”

The researchers found that Black youth made up 10% of the rural youth population but accounted for 30% of the rural youth firearm deaths in 2022.

"Though the homicide rate in general increased during the pandemic, Black rural youth’s firearm deaths started to skyrocket well before that,” said co-author Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, associate director of the MPC and an associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts. “Black rural youth’s firearm death rates have increased much more sharply than any other group of youth.”

The researchers emphasize that solutions will require additional analysis to understand the unique circumstances driving this epidemic.

“Although the proportion of Black youth living in rural areas is  relatively small — 9% of Black youth — the scale and duration of the increased risk for these young people is significant,” said co-author Susan Mason, a member of the MPC and an associate professor in the School of Public Health. “This change could potentially indicate substantial shifts in who is at risk of dying from firearms.”


This research was supported by funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 


: Rural-Urban Differences in Housing Cost Burden Across the U.S.

University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center Policy Brief 

MPC Members: Alexis SwendenerJonathan SchroederCarrie Henning-Smith






  • Housing cost burden (spending over 30% of income on housing) is widespread across the U.S. with a third of urban households and a quarter of rural households being cost burdened
  • In each of the four U.S. census regions, nine division, and in most states, higher proportions of urban households are housing cost burdened compared to rural households, but differences vary widely 
  • The Western region has the highest rates of those experiencing housing cost burden for both rural (29%) and urban locations (37%) overall, largely among states in the Pacific division 
  • California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts have particularly high rates of cost burden among both rural and urban households (ranging from 34% - 41%)

: Structural Bias Found in Investigations of Sudden Infant Deaths

Research Paper: Structural Bias in the Completeness of Death Investigations for Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUIDs) published in the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice 

Authors: Naomi Harada Thyden, Jaime Slaughter-Acey, Rachel WidomeJohn Robert WarrenTheresa L. Osypuk

Naomi Harada Thyden’s previous job at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) was an important one - she was in charge of the data surveillance system for sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs) in Minnesota. The difficult work led her to wonder what the public health system could do differently to prevent SUIDs. She was especially concerned by the racial inequities of which infants died suddenly and unexpectedly.

Death investigations are the bedrock public health builds off of for prevention efforts around SUIDs. Thyden’s initial analysis with Minnesota data showcased the need to do further research on the topic. At the University of Minnesota at the School of Public Health and in collaboration with Minnesota Population Center members Jaime Slaughter-Acey, Rachel Widome, John Robert Warren, and Theresa Osypuk, she was able to expand her analysis to a nationwide look at which infants are more likely to receive an incomplete death investigation. 

They found: 

  • 24% of SUIDs had incomplete death investigations 
  • Deaths in rural places were 1.51 times more likely to have incomplete investigations 
  • Death investigations led by law enforcement were less likely to be complete compared to those led by medical examiners 
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native SUIDs were more likely than any other group to have an incomplete investigation and were more likely to be rural and led by law enforcement 

There are best practices laid out for SUIDs death investigations by the National Association of Medical Examiners, but not every community has the resources to follow those best practices. Rural areas are often less equipped to carry out high quality infant death investigations. 

Picture of Naomi Thyden

“One solution could be to recruit other health professionals, such as nurses, to do part of the death investigations in rural areas, especially aspects that involve interacting with the families,” Thyden suggested. She pointed to research on a similar program that was successful in England. 

“Our public health system collects the worst quality data on sudden, unexpected infant deaths in Indigenous Peoples, the same group that experiences the highest rates of infant deaths,” Thyden said. “As public health practitioners, we need to do more to examine our own systems and their role in propagating inequities.” 

The researchers conclude it is important to regularly assess public health infrastructure for structural inequities among underserved and marginalized groups of people. SUIDs should be investigated by a coroner’s or medical examiner’s office rather than law enforcement. And public health agencies should seek out the expertise of Tribal Nations and American Indian/Alaskan Native organizations to get a better understanding of the barriers and needs regarding SUID death investigations. 

Funding for this research was provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

: New study suggests link between tear gas exposures and adverse reproductive health outcomes

In the wake of nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, anecdotal reports of irregular menstrual cycles emerged among protestors who were exposed to tear gas used by law enforcement. Those reports — and the fact that the reproductive health effects of exposure to tear gas and other chemical agents is largely unknown — were the impetus for a new study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH) and MPC member Asha Hassan.

The study, published in Frontiers in Epidemiology, adds to previous research about the short-term and long-term adverse health effects of exposure to a range of chemical agents colloquially known as “tear gas” and often employed by law enforcement agencies. Many of these chemicals have been banned in active warfare by international treaties because they have been linked to a range of negative health effects, including blindness, glaucoma, and respiratory failure.

Asha Hassan

Using a national survey, researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis to collect reproductive and sexual health experiences among protest attendees with uteri who were exposed to chemical agents.

The study found:

  • 83% of respondents reported at least one adverse reproductive health outcome, including uterine cramping (69%), early menstrual bleeding (55%), breast tenderness (30%), and delayed menstrual bleeding (19%)
  • Greater exposure to chemical agents was significantly associated with higher odds of an adverse reproductive health outcomes: Those with five days or more of exposure experienced 2.6 times more negative reproductive outcomes.

“This study adds to previous research documenting the many ways that structural racism through police violence can impact reproductive and perinatal health,” says Asha Hassan, a researcher with SPH’s Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity (CARHE), MPC member, and lead author of the study. “Law enforcement agencies see chemical agents as ‘less lethal’ weapons, but the fact is that we simply do not know very much about the short-term or long-term public health effects tear gas and other chemical agents have on reproductive health. This study is only the beginning of raising questions about the health effects of tear gas exposure.”

Given the pervasive use of these chemical agents and their potential for reproductive health harm, the researchers urgently recommend that policymakers push for limitations, conditions, and greater transparency in the use of chemical agents by law enforcement agencies.

The study was co-authored by researchers from Planned Parenthood North Central States.

Originally published by the School of Public Health. 

: Elizabeth Wrigley-Field Named Associate Director of the Minnesota Population Center

We are pleased to announce Elizabeth Wrigley-Field as the new Associate Director of the Minnesota Population Center. Dr. Wrigley-Field is a formal demographer and a sociologist. Her work takes a sociological approach to the study of inequality. Recently, her work has shed a light on the inequities around COVID-19 vaccination and mortality. 

Dr. Wrigley-Field is an Associate Professor in Sociology, and has been an active member of the Minnesota Population Center since her arrival to University of Minnesota in 2016.  She has developed a strong body of demography scholarship, including numerous awards and publications in top demographic journals.  Learn more about Elizabeth and view her CV.  We are excited for her contributions to MPC's goals and mission as the new Associate Director!