Study: Helmets reduce bicycle injury risk

Marietta Health Department provides helmets

Vickie Kelly, director of nursing at the Marietta City Health Department, sorts through the different sizes of helmets available for distribution to area youth. Lack of helmets contributes to injuries incurred from riding bikes, according to a study released through Nationwide Children’s Hospital. There is no charge for helmets available through the health department. (Photo by Erin E. O'Neill)

MARIETTA — A ritual of summer and a rite of passage for many children and teens is riding — and sometimes falling off — bicycles.

Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that more than 2.2 million children, age 5-17, were treated in U.S. emergency departments for bicycle-related injuries over a 10-year period (2006-2015). That’s more than 600 cases per day or 25 every hour.

The study, published online in Accident Analysis & Prevention, found that: The majority of injuries involved children 10 to 14 years of age; the most commonly injured body region was the upper extremities, followed by the lower extremities, face and head and neck; the most common types of injury were bruises, scrapes and cuts. Traumatic brain injuries represented 11percent of total injuries and were most common among patients 10-14 years of age.

“Wearing a helmet while riding a bike is the best way to decrease the risk of serious injuries,” said Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and senior author of the study.

The Marietta City Health Department gives out a number of helmets for free each year in an effort to offer a service to the public.

“We have a line item in our budget every year to allow for the helmets because it is part of public health,” said Vickie Kelly, director of nursing at the health department. “A Put A Lid On It grant allows us to get 72 helmets and then we buy the rest.”

To date since January, only 13 youth have taken advantage of the program. But Kelly said the department is out in force educating schools about the importance of helmet safety and fitting children at Safetytown who receive a helmet through Washington County Job and Family Services. They also attend the Policeman’s Pool Party in August and give vouchers for helmets to children who win bicycles at that event.

Information about how many children have been seen in the emergency room locally was not immediately available from Memorial Health System; however, one of their physicians offers more insight beyond what the study shows.

Sports Medicine physician Tom Bartsokas, MD, said that he thinks the study doesn’t do enough to promote helmet use.

“While this study points out the high frequency of bicycle injuries among youth, I believe that the authors missed an opportunity to emphasize some very important safety tips by simply focusing on helmet use as a way of preventing serious head injuries,” he said. “My view is that a more important tactic for reducing grave bicycle injuries is to do everything we can as a society, health care specialists, and parents, to prevent motor vehicle involvement in bicycle accidents.”

Strategies for accomplishing this goal are available on numerous websites, according to Bartsokas. He also offered a summary of advice provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

∫ Avoid over-sized bikes, as they are more difficult to control.

∫ Have all bicyclists ride on the right side of the road, with traffic. Riding against traffic confuses or surprises drivers, as evidenced by the fact that 25 percent of bicycle-car collisions result from bicyclists riding against traffic.

∫ Children should be taught to use proper hand signals before they begin riding on the street. Any child who does not possess the skills necessary to use hand signals without falling or swerving should not be riding in the street in the first place.

∫ Children should not ride their bikes at night.

∫ Bicyclists, regardless of age, should always ride in single file when biking on streets.

∫ It is important to wear a proper bicycling helmet for riding — no matter what distance the ride or its location.

The health department fits bicycle helmets for youth from toddler to 18 years of age. There is no charge for the helmets, though donations will be accepted to help the program continue. No appointments are necessary; walk-ins welcome on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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