Mind & Body

Study finds not all helmets offer the same protection

 | March 26, 2012

In Canada, the winter season typically signals an increase in emergency rooms visits by children with head injuries from winter activities. Helmets reduce the risk of head injury, but a recent study by the University of Ottawa and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute found not all helmets are created equal and some offer better protection than others.

Currently, there’s no certified winter recreational helmet available, and as a result, parents use whatever’s available or no helmet at all. The study compared the protective characteristics of three types of helmets currently used by children under the age of seven. Ice hockey, alpine ski and bicycle helmets were impacted at varying speeds on both the front and side to replicate the impact a child might experience while recreating.

“We defined helmet safety performance by the ability of a helmet to reduce acceleration of the head during impact,” explains Blaine Hoshizaki, professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Health Sciences and co-author of the study.

The research found that while there’s no one helmet built to protect in every situation, depending on impact velocity, different helmets offer better protection against brain injury. Ice hockey helmets offered the most protection for lower velocity impacts, while the bicycle helmet was a better choice for high velocity impacts. Alpine helmets had limited effectiveness in both low and high velocity impacts.

“Helmets are designed and tested to mitigate the risk of an injury,” says Hoshizaki. “They are not designed to eliminate head injuries.”

While there may not be one helmet suitable for all winter activities, a study by the Canadian Ski Council found that 83.1 per cent of Canadian skiers and snowboarders now wear helmets on a regular basis, up from 79.9 per cent last year.

“This remarkable increase in helmet usage reflects the efforts of the Canadian ski and snowboard industries and other stakeholders to educate skiers and boarders about the benefits and the limitations of helmet usage,” says Colin Chedore, President of the Canadian Ski Council.

Results from a 2010/11 National Consumer Survey also showed 95.5 per cent of children under 14 now wear helmets.

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