Kids these days may be more likely to get hurt in gym class than they were a decade ago, a new study out in Pediatrics shows.
A lack of supervision and school nurses may be part of the reason behind a 150% jump in physical education (PE)-related injuries treated at emergency departments between 1997 and 2007, Dr. Lara McKenzie of National Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, the lead researcher on the study, told Reuters Health.
But whatever the cause behind the trend, McKenzie was quick to add, the benefits of participating in PE far outweigh any risks.
McKenzie and her team looked at data from the US Consumer Products Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which tracks sports and recreation-related injuries treated at a nationally representative sample of about 100 US hospital emergency departments.
While the system reported an estimated 24,347 physical education-related injuries in 1997, there were 62,408 in 2007. The increase was seen for both boys and girls and across all age groups. About one in five of the injuries were strains or sprains of the legs, while about one in seven were broken arms, or arm sprains or strains.
Six sports accounted for 70% of injuries: running, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, and gymnastics.
Another recent look at the safety commission's data found that cheerleading is the leading cause of catastrophic injuries - those usually involving spinal cord damage - among high school and college athletes. High school cheerleading accounted for about 73 such injuries, according to the report by The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.
While McKenzie's study didn't look at why physical education injuries had increased, the researcher told Reuters Health that it may because fewer schools have full-time nurses on staff to help hurt kids. Schools may also be packing more kids into gym classes, making it harder for teachers to supervise them, she added. Just 36% of schools that require PE classes set a maximum student/teacher ratio, McKenzie and her colleagues note in their report.
That means that more equipment, more gym teachers, more training, more nurses--all of those may be beneficial to help reduce PE injuries, she said.
The shift from traditional team sports to the new PE, which focuses on fitness activities a student can pursue for a lifetime, like biking and rock climbing, could also be a factor in the increase, according to the researcher.
But whatever the causes, an increase in gym class participation isn't one of them, McKenzie and her colleagues say; PE participation held steady between 1995 and 2003, after which it began to increase, but only slightly.
Instructors must get comprehensive training in injury prevention, and kids need to get safety education as well, McKenzie said. Schools must also insure that teachers and students use all appropriate safety equipment, she added, for example laying down mats for gymnastics.
But the benefits of gym class-which has become one of the main strategies for fighting obesity among young people-far exceed any risks, she added. The long-term effects of inactivity really outweigh the relatively minor costs of a PE-related injury.