November 17, 1999 Health group wants to chart roots of violence Project would compile research, identify solutions By Phinjo Gombu
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Violence and its impact on society can be treated as a public health issue and tackled just like smoking or communicable diseases, says a spokesperson for the Ontario Public Health Association.

Pulling together the root causes of violence is the way to properly address a problem that costs the country $43 billion annually, said Karen Quigley-Hobbs, the author of a report presented this week at the group's annual general meeting.

Uniquely suited to the task are the province's many public health departments, she said.

At the meeting on Monday, members approved a recommendation to bring together studies on the causes of violence in one cohesive package in order to pinpoint areas where attempts can be made to help potentially violent people.

``Violence is not an inevitable consequence of modern society,'' Quigley-Hobbs said. ``It is a learned behaviour that can be understood and worked out.''

The association plans to mount a campaign to secure provincial funding for the project, which has a simple premise: If heart diseases can be prevented by certain kinds of exercises and diets, why not take preventative steps to deal with violence?

It's all a question of how detailed a picture can be drawn of the causes of inequity that some people believe lie behind violence, such as unemployment, poverty and racism.

``Because the root causes of violence are so broad, somebody needs to bring it all together,'' Quigley-Hobbs, an acting manager with the public health department in Kitchener-Waterloo, said yesterday. ``We think we are uniquely situated to make an impact.''

If the plan gets funding, experts such as dietitians, nurses, doctors, health promoters and even dentists would help put it all together.

As it stands, Quigley-Hobbs said, issues surrounding violence are dealt with piecemeal by the justice system, schools, police, social workers, hospitals and other organizations.

Quigley-Hobbs says inspiration can be drawn from studies such as the one done by psychologist Dan Offord in Hamilton, which looked at children in housing projects.

`Violence is not an inevitable consequence of modern society'

Offord found that there was a statistically significant lower rate of violence among children in housing projects that had recreation programs involving sports and learning a new skill.

As part of her presentation to convince the association to approve the project, Quigley-Hobbs pointed to a number of findings she collected from various sources.

These include:

  • The National Crime Prevention Council in Ottawa estimates that up to $43 billion is spent annually to deal with the aftermath of violence.

  • A 1993 survey by Central Toronto Youth Services showed up to about 80 per cent of students reported being exposed to ``moderate'' or ``a lot'' of violence.

  • The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission found that children in Canada can view up to 200,000 violent incidents on television before they turn 16.