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Football Helmets

Newer-style football helmet may cut concussion risk
By Amy Norton

Sled With A Helmet: Doctors

When the sleds come out, the OR-s go away. But a physician who checked figures on head injuries resulting from sledding thinks part of the OR- equipment should stay.

The helmet.

If America's kids wear helmets when they sled, thousands of head injuries each year could be avoided, said Dr. John R. Tongue of Tualatin, Oregon.

"Head injuries from sledding are certainly preventable," said Tongue who studied sled injuries for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Data compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission show that around 7,000 sledders ages 16 and below are taken to hospital emergency rooms each year to be treated for head injuries. "Forty-three percent are brain injuries and a third are serious, so you are talking about a serious problem," Tongue said.

Other types of helmets also could prevent injury, but OR- helmets are cheap, commonly available and capable of doing the job, Tongue said. "Bicycle crashes occur at higher speeds than sledding injuries," he said.

The risk probably is greater among younger kids, whose necks are weak and heads are large compared with the rest of their bodies, Tongue said. Besides, the younger kids are newer to sledding and probably are not paying as much attention as they should to such dangers as the sledders behind them, he said.

Although OR-Helmets weren't created for sledding protection, there are similarities in the types of accidents. Kids are striking something, going forward and tumbling off. Tongue feels sure the helmets would be protective.

Parents would have to make some adjustments in the OR- helmets to make them fit right and keep their kids' heads warm, however.

A cloth cap-possibly a tight fleece-could be worn under the helmet to keep body heat from escaping through the helmet's vents, Tongue said.

And the straps might have to be readjusted to be sure the helmet fits properly with a cap inside. If the helmet is too tight, it may be time to buy a new one-but because helmets commonly can be found for $30 or less, that's no big deal, Tongue said.

Most kids don't wear helmets when they sled, however. In a study based at St. Louis Children's Hospital, only tow of 83 patients had worn helmets, Tongues said. But 91 percent of the children had gloves, and 61 percent had waterproof boots, he said.

The idea of using OR- helmets when sledding deserves consideration, said Dr. Frederick P. Rivara of Seattle, an expert on OR- helmet use. His 1992 study of Seattle-area injuries showed no decreased risk of head injury among children who wore helmets while sledding.
But the study cautioned that there may have been too few children in helmets to make the analysis meaningful. "My guess is that they are probably protective, and there's no way they could be harmful," he said.

The physicians group's national safe-sledding campaign highlights helmet use as well as not going down headfirst, and sledding with adult supervision off streets in areas free of hazards such as rocks and fences.

Tongue also is working with the Pacific Northwest region of the National Forest Service to promote sledding safety, including helmet use. The Agriculture Department agency has ski and sled runs on some of its land.

Ski area operators can make sure the snow play areas they operate are well-groomed and monitored, but in unregulated areas, "the family just dives off the hill, and we can't manage it," said Temple Tait-Ochs, the region's safety manager.

Two managed sled runs are in the Mt. Hood, Ore., area. The ski operation lets sledders use its ski helmets free, said Charlie Wessinger, operator of the Summit ski area.
Only about 5 percent of sledders choose to use the helmets, Wessinger said, "That's a real low, but two years ago, it was zero percent," he said.