FALLS CHURCH, Va. — As summer comes to an end and classes start up again, some of the more serious risks for injuries happen as children are going to and from school.
Maj. Ryan Gottfredson, a pediatrician and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Preventive Medicine resident, said there are three things parents can do to help prevent injuries: Make sure their children are properly restrained when riding in a car, make sure they’re wearing a helmet if they ride a bike, and make sure their route to school is safe if they walk.
“They’re simple rules, but they’ve been proven to make a big difference in helping to prevent injuries to children as they travel to and from school,” he said. “Another big thing is when children are walking to school or riding their bike, it’s important they wear high visibility clothing: bright colors, white clothing, and reflective gear as well.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to 150 children every hour are seen in the E.R. because of motor vehicle injuries.
Gottfredson said the bulk of severe motor vehicle injuries happen because children aren’t properly restrained. He added, “There’s also a risk of air bag injury for children who are sitting the front seat. That’s why it’s recommended kids 12 years old or younger actually sit in the back.”
The CDC has recommendations for how children of different age groups should be seated in cars, including how their seatbelts should properly fit.
For children engaged in activities like skateboarding, roller blading or riding a bike, wearing a helmet is essential.
“Head injuries are particularly concerning,” Gottfredson said. “Your brain has the consistency of a stiff pudding and needs to be protected. Brain injuries can impact your ability to think, to work, and to take care of yourself. Severe injuries can result in permanent impairment and unfortunately sometimes even death.”
He said when parents buy a helmet for their children they should bring them to the store and make sure it fits snugly on the child’s head. Parents should train their kids so it can be worn consistently every time. Old helmets are less safe than new helmets because the components lose their protective effects over time.
Even walking to school can be a dangerous journey for children if parents don’t take the time to ensure the route is safe. Parents should make sure there are sidewalks along the street, that the school provides trained crossing guards at intersections, and make sure their children aren’t walking alone or unsupervised.
“Parents can organize with other parents in the community and try to get groups of children to walk together,” Gottfredson said. “Or, if it’s a particularly busy street, they can organize kind of a walking bus where responsible adults can take turns walking with their children to and from school.“
Traveling to and from school may present some of the biggest risk of injuries to children, but there are other things parents should look out for. Heavy backpacks can cause back problems, heat exhaustion can happen while children are out playing sports, and bullying can also be a concern.
“We can’t prevent every little scrape or burn or hurt or cut, but we can and must try to prevent the serious injuries that can result in major harm,” said Gottfredson. “Part of life is falling down and skinning your knee. You have to go through that and learn to stand up on your own. But what we need to be cognizant about is that there are real threats, serious threats, we could prevent if we try.”
Injury prevention is a part of preventive health and another way Airmen and their families can take charge of their own health.