Injury prevention efforts targeting schools and 5- to 9-year-old children may have the greatest impact in reducing emergency visits for playground injuries, according to Kieran J. Phelan, M.D., the study's lead author and a physician in the division of General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's.
The study is published in the current edition of Ambulatory Pediatrics.
"Although visits to emergency rooms by children and adolescents for injuries due to falls from playground equipment appear to be decreasing, they remain a common unintentional mechanism of injury," says Dr. Phelan. "Most of the injuries were minor, but a higher proportion of playground injuries were moderate to severe compared to injuries due to motor vehicles, bicycles or all falls."
Emergency visits for playground injuries fell from 187,000 in 1992 to 98,000 in 1997, according to the study.
It had been estimated that children make 200,000 emergency department visits each year in the United States due to falls from playground equipment. These injuries account for 15-20 deaths each year.
Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Dr. Phelan studied visits to emergency departments throughout the United States between 1992 and 1997 for children and adolescents less than 20-years-old who fell from playground equipment. Playground falls made up 920,551 of the more than 68 million emergency visits for injuries in children in the United States during the six-year study.
Fall related injuries accounted for the greatest proportion of injury visits -- 25 percent. Playground falls accounted for 5.3 percent of all fall-related injury visits. The average number of emergency visits from playground falls each year was about 153,000. Most playground falls, 40 percent, occurred at school. About 25 percent occurred in the home, and about 9 percent in public parks or recreation areas.
"Children in the 5-9 year age group had significantly higher rates of emergency visits for playground falls," says Dr. Phelan. "They were three times as likely to have an emergency visit as children 10 to 14 years old. Playgrounds provide obvious benefits for children, but they should be engineered to provide safety from falls, including rubberized or other soft surfaces to absorb the impact."