Most US Parents Don’t Make Kids Wear Helmets When Sledding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – While three-quarters of parents say they always have their children wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding, fewer than one in five say they always make their children wear a helmet when sledding, a new nationally representative poll finds.

The poll of nearly 2,000 parents who had at least one child aged 3 to 18 also found that 14% of parents reported their children never wore a helmet while skiing or snowboarding as compared to 67% for sledding, according to the report from the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

A recent study estimated that over the course of a decade, more than 220,000 patients were treated in emergency departments for sledding-related injuries, with children accounting for 70% of the injury cases.

Sledding injuries “run the gamut from ankle injuries, which might be a little sore but the child will be fine, to brain injuries which may have sequelae for the rest of the child’s life,” said Sarah Clark, a research scientist and codirector of the Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll.

Parents whose children will experience winter say the most common outdoor activity for both younger (ages 3-9) and older (ages 10-18) children is sledding, with 62% of younger children and 46% of the older ones participating in the activity. Fewer parents say their children will ski downhill or snowboard: 11% younger children and 17% of the older ones. Just 5% of younger kids and 4% of older ones will participate in snowmobiling.

Clark said she hopes that helmet use during sledding will follow the model set by bicycling. There was a time when few people rode with helmets, she said. Now most riders don a helmet before going out on the road.

Parents should also be aware of measures they can take to make sledding safer, by avoiding hills that are too steep for the child’s age and by checking to make sure the hill is covered with snow and not ice, Clark said. Parents also need to encourage their children to watch out for others coming down the hill once they have finished their run, she added.

“Lastly, Clark said, “it’s important to make sure there is a flat runoff area wide enough for sledders to slow down before they hit a tree or fence or get to a parking lot or street.”

Sledding injuries are relatively common, said Dr. Leticia Ryan, director of pediatric emergency medicine at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, in Baltimore, Maryland.

“As a practicing pediatric emergency medicine physician, I am aware of these injuries firsthand and have treated children with severe injuries from sledding, including fractures and head injuries,” Dr. Ryan told Reuters Health by email. “Head injuries are the most common type of sledding injury that results in hospitalization. I think that we will see increased use of helmets with sledding as more parents – and children themselves – become aware that sledding injuries are common and that the risk of severe head injury may be reduced by the use of helmets. It will likely be similar to the increased use of helmets for other winter activities like skiing and ice skating as public awareness of risk grows.”

“It’s important to recognize that serious sled-related injuries are preventable,” Dr. Ryan said. “Sledding is a fun winter activity for all ages but precautions should be taken to keep it safe and enjoyable. In addition to wearing helmets, strategies to avoid sledding injuries include choosing safe areas away from trees – and other obstacles – and traffic, avoiding collisions with others, and ensuring adequate supervision.”

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, online January 24, 2022.

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