KIDS
November 6, 2013

When It Comes to Bike Helmets, Parents Are Often Slackers

Bike helmets protect kids’ brains. So why are ERs filled with children who didn't use them?

Parents know about the protection bike helmets offer their kids, but they may not be so good about making sure kids use them. It may seem that kids are wearing helmets more than they did 20 years ago — whether on bikes, scooters, skateboards, or skates — but many still do not.

The sad fact is that many kids actually don't wear head protection and, not surprisingly, those that don't are far more likely to turn up in emergency rooms.

Parents need to buy helmets for their children and insist that they wear them each and every time they ride their bike or scooter, skateboard or rollerblades, even if it doesn’t make them the most popular parent in town.

A new study by researchers at UCLA reviewed all the children's bike accidents that required medical attention in the Los Angeles area between 2006 and 2011. The team noted whether the child was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, whether the wearing of a helmet was linked to the severity of the injury, whether surgery was needed, and whether other health problems or death occurred as a result.

Of the more than 1200 children involved in bike accidents that landed them in the hospital over that five-year period, only 11% of them were wearing helmets at the time. Of the nine children who died as a result of the accidents, eight were not wearing helmets.

Children over 12 years old were less likely than younger kids to wear their helmets. So were black, Asian or Hispanic kids. Socioeconomic factors also seem to play a role: hospitalized children with private health insurance were over twice as likely to have been wearing helmets as children with public insurance.

“Our study highlights the need to target minority groups, older children, and those with lower socioeconomic status when implementing bicycle safety programs in Los Angeles County, ” study author Veronica F. Sullins said in a statement.

“Children and adolescents have the highest rate of unintentional injury and therefore should be a high priority target population for injury-prevention programs.”

The importance of helmets in children’s sports — specifically, football and soccer — is on many parents' minds, given the recent NFL settlement. Evidence suggests even a single concussion can cause lasting problems.

This study calls attention to another area where children's heads — and developing brains — need to be protected to avoid serious health problems, and even death.

How to get kids — and their parents — to understand the need to protect their heads is another question, but public health campaigns stressing the importance of brain health is one way.

Parents need to buy helmets for their children and insist that they wear them each and every time they ride their bike or scooter, skateboard or rollerblades, even if it doesn’t make them the most popular parent in town. They also need to spend time getting their kids to understand what the risks are so they are won over to why helmets are so important.

The researchers presented their findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Florida.

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