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Study of 50,000 Children Finds Accident-Proneness A Temporary Phenomenon

March 23, 1989

CHICAGO (AP) _ The accident-prone youngster really seems to exist, say researchers who studied more than 50,000 school children and found that some did get hurt more often than normal children would be expected to.

But being accident-prone usually appeared to be a phase, rather than a long-term characteristic, suggesting it might be possible to identify the periods of increased risk and stop injuries before they happen, the researchers said.

They studied 54,874 school children ages 6 to 18 over a three-year period in a Tucson, Ariz., school district. They found 8,429 injuries during school hours that were serious enough to require a doctor’s attention, cause school absence or restrict sports participation.

Seventeen percent of the injuries occurred to 1 percent of the children, a significantly higher rate than could be expected from chance alone, the researchers said in the March issue of the American Journal of Diseases of Children.

There were 574 children who got two or more injuries in a single year, but few of them kept getting injured over and over again, the researchers said.

″Most sustained only two injuries, and the vast majority of injuries were clustered within a short time,″ said the researchers, Dr. W. Thomas Boyce of the University of California at San Francisco and Sue Sobolewski of the Tucson Unified School District.

Injuries were most likely to recur among junior high school boys, children engaged in athletic activities and youngsters attending schools with longer hours or who were engaged in alternative programs, such as ″open″ classrooms or ″magnet″ schools, the researchers said.

″Only an extraordinarily small group of children - perhaps as few as three in 10,000 - seem to maintain an inordinate risk of injury over an extended period of years,″ the researchers said.

The study didn’t cover why some children seemed to have clusters of injuries, but the researchers theorized that stresses such as family or social problems, or the onset of adolescence, could cause the temporary accident proneness. More study could lead to ways to prevent accidents in such children, they said.

Dr. Mark Widome, chairman of the Committee on Accident and Poison Prevention for the American Academy of Pediaterics, commended the research Thursday, saying, ″This is a study people are going to quote for a while.″

″It supports the widely held belief that there is not a stable inborn personality trait called accident-proneness, that accident-proneness is probably a state rather than a trait,″ Widome said in a telephone interview from Hershey, Pa., where he an associate professor at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.

″States are something you have for a period of time, such as when you’re upset, you’re having trouble in school, you’re going through puberty,″ he explained. ″A trait is something you have all your life.″

Widome said that for most children, there are ″relatively brief and transient periods when they’re at increased risk for injuries.″

″That is very good and optimistic news for parents, for teachers, for injury control specialists and for pediatricians,″ he said. ″It means that we can look at psychological and enviromental influences that can warn us of increased risk and even things we can change to decrease the risk.″

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