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P.E. Class Sending More Kids to the E.R.

Study Shows a 150% Increase in the Number of Physical Education Injuries That Resulted in Emergency Room Visits
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News

Aug. 3, 2009 -- The number of students who end up in emergency rooms because of physical education class injuries has increased significantly since the late 1990s, according a new study.

For the study, published in Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance Study of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. They found that the annual number of P.E. injuries increased 150% from 1997 to 2007.

Boys and girls tended to have different types of injuries. Boys were more likely to sustain head injuries, or sustain a fracture or cuts, during group activities. Girls were more likely to have sprains or strains to the lower extremities. Most of these injuries occurred during individual activities.

Other findings from the study:

  • During the 11-year study period (1997-2007), there were an estimated 405,305 injuries in P.E. classes that resulted in emergency room visits.
  • Middle-schoolers accounted for 52% of injuries. Elementary schools claimed 22% of injuries, and high schools had 26%.
  • Boys had 54% of injuries.
  • Nearly all patients (99%) were treated and released. Of those hospitalized, 76% were boys.

Reasons for the Increase in School P.E. Injuries

The researchers call for additional research into the causes of the overall increase. One possible explanation, they write, is that there are fewer school nurses, which means more children may be taken to hospital emergency rooms for minor injuries. Larger class sizes that are harder to supervise, and an emphasis on highly active fitness activities -- such as running, tennis, and rock climbing -- over team sports may also play a role.

The authors also write that there should be more research into reasons for the difference in injuries by gender. They call for prevention strategies to reduce gym class injuries in the future.

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