As Alberta's economy continues to struggle, rates of domestic violence will likely rise, according to new research from the University of Alberta.

Alberta already has the highest rates of interpersonal violence of any province in Canada. In the last five years, nearly 75,000 Albertans have reported violence by a spouse or partner. 

study recently published in BMC Women's Health suggests issues like rising unemployment in an economic downturn could contribute to the troubling statistics.

"With the economic downturn, and the research and links that we've seen, we can expect to see an increase in domestic violence and interpersonal violence," said Stephanie Montesanti, a health policy expert and assistant professor in the U of A's School of Public Health.

The study found that interpersonal violence is not only a symptom of unhealthy relationships, but everyday living conditions, including housing, education and economic status.

"Violence is a public-health problem," Montesanti said in a interview on Radio Active. "When we look at the social determinants of health, we see inequities."

Stephanie Montesanti

Stephanie Montesanti says domestic violence needs to be addressed with public health programming. (University of Alberta )

Rates of violence are higher among vulnerable populations including those living in poverty, struggling to find employment, or living with addictions, Montesanti said.

More fundamental demographics, such as ethnicity, disability and gender can also make people more vulnerable to abuse, according to the study.

Alberta is home to many vulnerable populations, including immigrants, visible minorities, and indigenous people, Montesanti said.

Those demographics provide some insight into why the province continues to lead the country in rates of domestic violence, she said.

In times of economic instability, reliable public programming such as employment and housing supports, becomes even more critical, according to Montesanti who would like to see agencies be more active in their approach to the problem.

"Public health has been successful in reducing the prevalence of many complex health problems," Montesanti said.

"The same factors that influence obesity and chronic disease contribute to interpersonal violence. If we can address them, we can address violence in our communities."