Participation in sports is widely used as a key component in promoting a healthy lifestyle for youngsters, and lauded for its benefits to both physical and mental health. However, a recent study carried out by researchers from Newcastle University and the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, UK, shows more care is needed to help children manage the physical risks.
The researchers, led by Newcastle University’s Graham Kirkwood, gathered data from the 24-hour emergency departments of two National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in Oxfordshire, over a 27-month period from January 2012 to March 2014.
63,877 injury-related attendances were recorded for patients of all ages during this period, 18.3% of which were identified in hospital records as sport-related. For patients in the 0-19 age group, that percentage rose to 26.5%.
The attendance data for the younger age group was then mined further by age, gender, sport, the location and mechanism of the injury, and the final diagnosis. The results indicate that 10-to-14-year-olds are most likely to be hospitalised, with more than 40% of all emergency admissions for this age group identified as sports injuries.
The researchers also came to conclusions specific to particular sports. The least surprising is that soccer – the most popular participation sport among British boys, particularly those in the most injury-prone age group – was the sport most associated with injury among male patients, accounting for more than one-third of emergency department attendances.
The two rugby codes, league and union, followed, with a combined 20.5% of admissions, trailed by trampoline and basketball with 4.2% and 3.2% respectively.
For females, the spread across sporting disciplines was more even, with trampolining the leading cause of hospitalisation on 12%, followed by netball, horse-riding, soccer and ice-skating, each of which caused around 8% of recorded injuries.
The researchers’ findings on specific damage found the sports most likely to result in head injury and concussion are rugby league for boys and horse racing for girls. The high incidence of concussion in young athletes is a growing cause for concern, with a 2017 study suggesting a decline in high school American football participation could be connected to media coverage of head injuries sustained on the gridiron.
The scientists believe schools and local government should focus their attentions more closely on injury prevention in the first four years of secondary school. The study also suggests improved safety measures are introduced for trampolines in the home.
“Emergency department reception staff do a great job collecting injury data on our patients, and by using this information, we can prevent injuries,” says co-author Tom Hughes, from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
“This analysis highlights areas we should be exploring to see how we can make everyday activities a bit safer without being boring.”
Kirkwood notes the heavy burden sports-related injuries place on the UK’s beleaguered public health system, as well as on injured children and their families.
However, with obesity in the UK a lingering issue, he advocates for safety over abstinence. “Children need to be physically active but making organised sports as safe as possible needs to be part of any effective child obesity strategy,” he says.
The study is published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Andrew Patterson is a freelance science writer from Newcastle, UK.
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