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How well does protective headgear work for small children engaged in Winter activities?

Charlottesville, VA -- This time of year parents in northern regions bundle up their children in preparation for winter activities. In addition to layers of warm clothing, gloves, and boots, parents often use whatever athletic headgear is available to mitigate the potential hazards of winter sports and play. Currently no helmets are specifically designed to protect children's heads from the stresses and forces that may be encountered in activities such as tobogganing and ice skating.

To see just how well available protective headgear fare when used for winter activities such as tobogganing, researchers at the University of Ottawa and Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) undertook a laboratory investigation. Their focus was on helmets used to protect the heads of children younger than 7 years of age. The headgear tested included ice hockey, alpine ski, and bicycling helmets, because these are reportedly the most commonly used to protect small children during winter activities. Findings of the study can be found in the article "Performance analysis of winter activity protection headgear for young children. Laboratory investigation," published online today in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics. (

Blaine Hoshizaki, Ph.D., and colleagues used a monorail drop tower to simulate the types of impact that can be sustained by a child's head during mishaps in tobogganing. The various helmets were mounted on a head form representing the skull of a 6-year-old child. The motion of the "head" within the helmet when impact occurred was measured using accelerometers and recorded for a comparison of the protection afforded by the different helmets. The researchers looked at both low-velocity impacts (such as those occurring in a short fall) and high-velocity impacts (such as those sustained when a child slides downhill into an object). Impacts coming from the front and side were examined, as were linear and angular accelerations.

At lower-velocity impacts (2 to 6 meters per second) the ice hockey helmet was the most protective. At high-velocity impacts (8 meters per second) the bicycle helmet was more protective. In general, the alpine ski helmet did not protect "children's heads" during falls and slides as well as the other headgear tested, a finding surprising to the authors since skiing involves the potential for both types of injuries.

No winner was identified by testing. No helmet performed adequately for all impacts studied. Thus the authors could not endorse a type of helmet to be used by small children during winter activities. Instead, they state that the findings of the study highlight the need for a new type of winter play helmet that can withstand both low- and high-velocity impactsone that can protect the young child's developing brain from potentially grave injury.

Contact: Gillian Shasby
Journal of Neurosurgery Publishing Group

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