Safety

Helmets provide protection, but they get a bad rep. How can adults encourage kids to wear them?

Summertime and bike riding go hand in hand. The pleasant weather invites cyclists of all ages, and for kids, bikes grant independence. They can get from place to place using environmentally friendly transportation and without relying on Mom or Dad for rides. This can be especially important during long summer days because, unfortunately, most parents and/or caretakers don’t get a summer vacation from work. Moreover, they are free to use! Even if the initial investment is a financial burden, many cities offer free or subsidized bike-sharing programs.

CHIL encourages kids to take advantage of this prime bike-riding time. At the same time, we support the use of bike helmets as they improve safety. We know they’re hot and sweaty, they give you helmet hair, and the chances of getting in an accident, statistically, are small. We get it. Wearing a helmet requires taking on a short-term cost with an unknown reward.

In fact, one of the major fears of policy-makers considering requiring helmet usage is that the reluctance to wear a one will actually reduce bike-riding popularity altogether. This would be an unwanted consequence given biking is such an accessible form of exercise. Nonetheless, the research gathered on helmets, bike accidents, and fatality are in largely in agreement. In her review of bicycle helmet research, including five well conducted case‐control studies, Dr. Rebecca Ivers found that “helmets provide a 63–88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists” and “the review authors concluded that bicycle helmets are an effective means of preventing head injury.”

Ivers makes it clear that wearing a helmet is good for your health—so much so that some health insurance companies even offer monetary incentives (both positive and negative) to helmet-wearing, like covering the cost of helmet or revoking coverage in accidents where the rider is without helmet. We want to emphasize that wearing a helmet while bike riding makes an already-healthy activity even more healthy.

When it comes to children, the bike-riding beginners, it’s important to instill the habit of helmet-wearing perhaps before they even think of it as a short-term cost. We’ve gathered the following tips to incentivize kids to wear helmets:

  • Encourage good habits. From the first time they start riding with training wheels, have them where a helmet. Make it clear that putting the helmet on and getting on the bike should happen simultaneously, just like putting on a seatbelt in the car.

  • Let them pick out the helmet they would like. Many retailers carry a plethora of options with different colors and décor. Stickers are also fair game. The helmet can become a fun accessory, and unlike clothes, kids won’t outgrow them every year!

  • Set an example for them by always wearing a helmet when you ride.

  • Point out celebrity cyclists (or other admirable figures in their lives) wearing helmets.

  • Be sure to use positive reinforcement—praise children when they do wear their helmets rather than only scolding when they don’t.

Bike riding should be fun, but it also should be done safely—especially when it comes to younger riders. Wearing helmet should not have to compromise the enjoyment of biking for kids, and with the right encouragement, it doesn’t have to.

 

The Public Health Crisis We Aren't Talking About

The Editorial Board of the New York Times wrote a piece last week calling attention to a public health crisis that does not get enough attention: the lethal combination of gun violence and children. According to a report in Pediatrics, cited by the Board, about 7,100 children are killed or sent to the hospital each year with gun-related injuries. That translates to about 25 children who are killed by guns each week. This rate is far beyond that of any other wealthy nation in the world.

 

The disparities among the pediatric victims are, discouragingly, along geographic and class lines.  African American children are at far greater risk for gun-related injuries, as are boys and children living in the South. At the same time, however, deliberate gun deaths among children are distinctly related to white or American Indian children, according to the study.

 

Even the most cursory research indicates that this is an American crisis, and one that does not show any signs of improving soon. However, the most striking aspect of this crisis is the inability of federal agencies to conduct meaningful research on guns in the country. The passing of a congressional amendment several years ago “forbid[s] federal money to be used ‘to advocate or promote gun control.’” In other words, the government of the most firearm-dangerous country for children in the world prohibits itself from researching the effects of its laws and policies.

 

Gun violence is a distinctly American crisis that affects children from all races and socioeconomic classes. In that regard, gun violence is an unparalleled public health crisis - gun violence impacts all facets of American society, and especially its most vulnerable citizens.