By Steven Reinberg
MONDAY, Aug. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Just as many schools are ramping up physical education programs to battle the childhood obesity epidemic, the number of kids being injured during gym class has risen dramatically, Ohio State University researchers report.
In fact, between 1997 and 2007, the annual number of injuries related to physical education (PE) increased 150 percent -- from 24,000 in 1997 to about 62,000 in 2007, the scientists said.
"We don't have an answer as to why injuries are increasing," said lead researcher Lara McKenzie, principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus.
"I don't think it's because more people are participating in PE," she said. "From all accounts, participation is down over the last couple of decades, and [there's been] only a slight increase in the past couple of years."
The report is published online Aug. 3 in Pediatrics.
For the study, McKenzie's team used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to gather information on PE-related injuries. During the 11 years of the study, 405,305 children and adolescents were treated in emergency departments for injuries stemming from their PE classes, the researchers found.
"Most of the patients, about 98 percent of the cases, were seen and released," McKenzie said. "Of those who were hospitalized, about 75 percent were boys."
Almost 70 percent of the injuries happened during running, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer or gymnastics, she said.
Injuries differed for boys and girls, she noted. Boys were more likely to be injured on the head, during collisions with other people and during group activities. Girls were more apt to suffer strains and sprains to the legs and to be injured during individual activities.
Most injuries (52 percent) occurred among kids in middle school, McKenzie said.
Given the increasing recognition of the importance of physical activity, the authors suggested that more research is needed to develop injury-prevention strategies.
And McKenzie stressed that living an active lifestyle is important, especially for children. "Parents and school administrators have to be vigilant about these types of injuries because there are so many," she said.
Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, said he thinks that gym class injuries are increasing because young children are being taught how to play sports rather than being given basic training in movement and body awareness in elementary school.
Before children start playing sports, he said, they need to develop movement skills.
"If kids aren't out moving and playing before they are 9 or 10, they are not going to develop a lot of the motor skills they need when they are older," McCall explained.
He said that movement training should start early. "As a kid is 2 or 3, get him into gymnastics or martial arts or dance," McCall said. "Between 4 and 8, don't worry about sports."
"Sports should be secondary to movement," he said. "Movement skills should be first -- controlling balance, controlling center of gravity. And then, once kids understand that and have the body awareness, then they can progress into more advanced and more challenging sports."
McCall also suggests that children participate in several sports, not just one.
"Kids who grow up playing multi-sports are a lot more resistant to injury because they are used to different patterns of movement," he noted.
The Nemours Foundation has more on exercise for kids.
SOURCES: Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., principal investigator, Center for Injury Research and Policy, Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio; Pete McCall, M.S., exercise physiologist, American Council on Exercise, San Diego; Aug. 3, 2009, Pediatrics, online
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