Death by headphones

January 18, 2012

Researchers from University of Maryland School of Medicine and The University of Maryland Medical Center find that as use of mobile devices increase, so does the risk of injury from distraction and blocking out other sounds.

The research team studied case reports from databases, such as the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, for pedestrian injuries or fatalities from crashes involving trains or motor vehicles between 2004 and 2011. From there, cases involving headphone use were summarized.

From 2004 to 2011, 116 accident cases were reviewed in which pedestrians were reported to be wearing headphones. The analysis found that 70 percent of the 116 accidents resulted in death to the pedestrian. Science Daily reports that more than two thirds of the victims were male (68%) and under 30 years old (67%).

55 percent of the vehicles involved were trains and almost 29 percent of the vehicles reported sounding a warning horn prior to the crash. The researchers noted that distraction and sensory deprivation are the two phenomena likely to be associated with these incidents.

WebMD reports that the number of injuries corresponds to the rising popularity of iPods and other MP3 devices. Between 2004 and 2005, 16 injuries had been reported, and by 2010 to 2011, the number had jumped to 47.

Dr. Richard Lichenstein, lead study author and director of pediatric emergency medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center, says:

“Everybody is aware of the risk of cell phones and texting in automobiles, but I see more and more teens distracted with the latest devices and headphones in their ears…Unfortunately as we make more and more enticing devices, the risk of injury from distraction and blocking out other sounds increases.”

The study is published in the journal Injury Prevention.

Has Washington State gone overboard?

June 24, 2011

You can’t make this stuff up. As ridiculous as it may seem, King County in Washington State has made it illegal to swim without a lifejacket on or in a major river – at least until October 31. As Toronto’s National Post columnist Chris Selley points out,“the Founding Fathers might take serious issue with mandatory life jacket laws for swimmers.” However, he also says, tongue in cheek (we think), that the argument to ban “free” swimming is, in terms of numbers, quite persuasive:

“By the Lifesaving Society’s count, an average of around 200 people drown every year in Canada while swimming, wading or otherwise being in water but not in a boat. (That’s not including the 10% of total drownings that occur in bath tubs, because wearing a life jacket in the tub would be silly. Uh … right?)

Those drowning victims add up to roughly four times as many people as are killed in an average year while cycling and about 50 times as many as are killed in an average year on the slopes of Canadian ski resorts.”

The numbers show that we’re more at risk from activities that we take for granted than from many of the things we worry about – or are encouraged to worry about. The logic of precaution seems inexorable: As Selley concludes, “Nobody needs to swim, after all, with or without a life jacket. Nobody swims to work. It’s pure, decadent recreation. And it’s killing us by the hundreds. For how much longer can we turn a blind eye?”

What do you think? Has Washington gone overboard or should we continue to swim blind to the risks?

Keep your mind on the road and your hand upon the wheel

January 7, 2011

A new study out of Newcastle University in the UK finds that boredom behind the wheel may be associated with an increased risk of car accidents.

The research team, led by Dr. Joan Harvey of the University’s School of Psychology, analyzed 1,563 drivers and placed each participant into one of four groups.

31 percent of drivers fell into the category of “easily bored, nervous and dangerous”, the majority of which were female and younger drivers.  These drivers were more likely to seek excitement by taking risks, making them one and a half times more likely to be involved in a car accident, TIME reports.

Dr. Harvey explains:

“When people who are highly likely to get bored feel understimulated, they do things in response to that, even behind the wheel…Their mind wanders, they daydream, and they lose concentration.”

According to the Daily Mail, 35 percent of the participants fell into the “enthusiastic” category. These group members found driving to be challenging and interesting and ultimately were less likely to be involved in an accident.

21 percent were categorized as “drive slowly and dislike driving”. These participants drive the least and were also the least likely to receive a speeding ticket. The final 13 percent fell into “safe and slow”. Interestingly, the researchers found these drivers had the most positive outlook on life, reports CarAdvice.

What does Dr. Harvey suggest as a solution for those bored drivers?

“Contrary to what you might expect when driving, hazards can actually increase our attention to the road so this may well be the way forward for planners.”

Is hypertexting a health problem?

November 17, 2010

By Cindy Merrick

A recent survey of high schoolers indicated some attention-grabbing relationships between high-risk behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse and frequent sexual activity, with activities known as “hypertexting” (texting at least 120 messages per school day) and “hypernetworking” (spending at least 3 hours per school day on social networking sites).

Dr. Scott Frank of Case Western Reserve University announced last week the findings of a survey of over 4200 high school students in the Midwest at an annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Denver in a talk entitled, “Hypertexting and Hypernetworking: A New Health Risk Category for Teens?” In his abstract, Frank says that 19.8 percent of the students fell into the category of hypertexting and 11.5 percent fell into the category of hypernetworking.

This survey associated both behaviors with higher levels of sexual activity, binge drinking, suicidal ideation, and tobacco and marijuana use. Further, participators in hypertexting and hypernetworking tended to be obese or have other eating disorders and get less sleep. Such associations were made after controlling for demographic factors. Frank concludes that “Excessive use of communications technology among teens is related to higher levels of health risk behaviors and poorer health outcomes.”

Specific numbers from the survey look compelling: hypertexters are 43 percent more likely to be binge drinkers and 41 percent more likely to have used illicit drugs; hypernetworkers are 69 percent more likely to be binge drinkers and 84 percent more likely to have used illicit drugs. Less clear is what the link between hypertexting or hypernetworking and risky behavior actually is.

Which means it’s premature to label hypertexting and hypernetworking a “Health Risk Category.” No direct harm is described and, as Frank told the Washington Post, “the study was not intended to show causality.”

Unfortunately, his university’s press release ran with the headline “Hyper-texting and Hyper-Networking Pose New Health Risks for Teens,” and other news organizations followed suit. Frank offered the Post a thin justification: “It does depend on who they’re texting with. Their choice of friends in the single most important thing. The more texting they do, the more potential for exposure to high-tech peer pressure.”

But what are the odds the kids wouldn’t have any friends or be subjected to peer-pressure if they didn’t text? This seems to be a case of mistaking the tool for the cause, and the best that can be said for such a notion is that it begs for more direct study. In fact, it wouldn’t be incorrect to succinctly state Frank’s findings this way: Teens Likely to Try Risky Behavior Also Text a Lot!


Sleigh bumps

August 25, 2010

Many of you may still be in a summer state of mind, but new research already has us thinking about winter fun. A new study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy finds that sledding is responsible for a staggering average of 20,820 injuries per year.

Using data from the National Electronic Surveillance System, researchers determined an average yearly sledding injury rate of 26 per 100,000 children ages nineteen and younger. MedPage Today reports that boys were the most prone to sledding accidents (particularly those between the ages of ten and fourteen), accounting for 60 percent of those injured.

Overall, the head was the most commonly injured area of the body, making up 34 percent of the injuries requiring hospital care. Here is the breakdown of injuries as reported by HealthDay:

  • Fractures – 26 %
  • Cuts and bruises – 25 %
  • Strains/sprains – 16 %
  • Traumatic brain injuries – 9 %

According to WebMD, 4.1 percent of all emergency department visits required hospitalization. Collisions of all types – whether with trees, people, or poles – were the most common cause of sledding injuries, occurring 50.6 percent of the time. Snow tubes were the most likely to lead to brain injuries and children ages four and under, were found to be four times more likely to sustain a head injury, Reuters reports.

The researchers also found that 51.8 percent of injuries occurred at a public sports or recreation area, and 31 percent took place on private property.

This study will be published in the September issue of Pediatrics. For sledding safety tips, click here.

July 23, 2010

First, they came for the scissors; then they took the rocks; how long before they remove the paper? As Forbes columnist Lenore Skenazy reports

“Michael Warring, president of American Educational Products in Fort Collins, Colo., had his shipment all ready: A school’s worth of small bags, each one filled with an igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock. Then the school canceled its order. Says Warring, “They apparently decided rocks could be harmful to children.”

Drama – the key criterion for assessing volcano ash risk

April 20, 2010

Frank Furedi, the world’s formost sociologist on fear, weighs in on the air travel chaos created by the eruptions from the world’s most unpronouncable volcano — Eyjafjallajokull — on Spiked Online:

“I am not a natural scientist, and I claim no authority to say anything of value about the risks posed by volcanic ash clouds to flying aircraft. However, as a sociologist interested in the process of decision-making, it is evident to me that the reluctance to lift the ban on air traffic in Europe is motivated by worst-case thinking rather than rigorous risk assessment. Risk assessment is based on an attempt to calculate the probability of different outcomes. Worst-case thinking – these days known as ‘precautionary thinking’ – is based on an act of imagination. It imagines the worst-case scenario and then takes action on that basis. In the case of the Icelandic volcano, fears that particles in the ash cloud could cause aeroplane engines to shut down automatically mutated into a conclusion that this would happen. So it seems to me to be the fantasy of the worst-case scenario rather than risk assessment that underpins the current official ban on air traffic.”

Furedi’s criticism might seem, on the face of it, careless: The consequences of an aircraft sucking in volcanic ash are, based on previous incidents, potentially fatal. But in light of an admission by European Union officials that many of the grounded flights would have flown under U.S. rules for dealing with volcanic ash, and that the computer models used to predict the ash cloud were flawed give credence to the complaint that “worst-case thinking”  is bypassing rational, probabilistic,  risk assessment.

This is not, Furedi notes, an isolated phenomenon, but rather the result of a  broad societal amplification of fear as a criterion for dealing with and regulating life. It is a radicalized skepticism which places far greater value on what is unknown, what might happen,  than what can be known about what will happen. And this fear of the unknown demands action — government intervention and regulation on the grounds that it is better to be safe than sorry. For more, read the full article.


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