In an effort to promote safety, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently released data on sports-related injuries incurred by kids 15 and younger, and bicycle-related injuries ranked the highest.
From a sample of 100 American hospitals, nearly 240,000 kids 14 and younger were treated for bike-related accidents. (American) football resulted in about 221,000 injuries, baseball almost 85,000, and operating unpowered scooters just over 37,500. The data is significant, experts add, for the risks for kids and the costs to society as a whole.
"We wanted to make the point that with any outdoor activity, parents need to be thinking about safety as well as the activity itself," said Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the commission. "Parents should not send their kids out to bike, roller blade or scooter without helmets, wrist guards, elbow pads or whatever is appropriate for their sport."
Wearing a helmet while cycling can reduce the risk of serious head injury by 85 percent, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Seventy percent of the kids involved in bicycle accidents are male. Injuries to the face and head are typically the most serious, and a frequent result of bike accidents.
"Injury is arguably the most compelling public health problem facing youth in this country because it is the leading cause of death and acquired disability from ages 1 through 44 years," said Gary Smith, director of the center for injury research and policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "For the age group they presented, sports and recreation is a very important piece of the injury picture."
Experts estimate that more than 30 million children participate in sports each year in the U.S. About 3 million children ages 14 and younger get hurt annually participating in recreational activities, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
The commission report also documents 77 deaths related to bicycles in children younger than 15 in 2004, compared with 149 who died in accidents involving all-terrain vehicles, the data show. Skateboards were involved in four deaths, and unpowered scooters and football resulted in two deaths each for the same age group.
Experts are quick to note, however, that the risk of keeping children indoors and discouraging them from participating in sports outweighs the risks of sport-related injury.
"It's so important for our children to be active rather than sitting in front of a flat screen TV or video game that some relatively minor risk is worth taking," said Angela Davis, an orthopedic surgeon at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "The minor risk of a broken risk wrist is worth the later risk of diabetes."