Gym Class Sending More Kids to the ER

That reliably geeky character in high school movies that falls, trips and inevitably hurts himself in gym may be lost on the next generation.

No, it's not the movement to ban tag or dodge ball. One study has shown falling down in gym class may be more common today than a decade ago.

Children are showing up in emergency rooms with injuries from physical education class at more than double the rate of 10 years ago, according to a study published in today's issue of the journal Pediatrics. While the rate doubled, the annual number of injuries shot up by 150 percent, from 1997 to 2007.

The study used numbers from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) -- a sample of emergency room departments designed to reflect the nation as a whole -- to weed out how boys and girls from kindergarten to senior year end up in the emergency room after P.E. class.

Middle school students took up the greatest proportion of the estimated 405,305 cases seen in emergency rooms, while just six activities -- running, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer and gymnastics -- contributed to more than 70 percent of all injuries.

"The good news is this data set we used is the best for doing the surveillance; the bad news is it doesn't always tell us why," said author of the study Dr. Lara McKenzie of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

"What we do know was this increase was consistent across gender and age groups, and I think it's unlikely that this increase is attributable to an increase in P.E. participation," said McKenzie.

In 1991, 42 percent of U.S. students attended a daily P.E. class, according to the 2006 Shape of the Nation Report by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. By 2003, only 28 percent of students went to P.E. daily.

Since school systems have cut P.E. classes considerably in recent years, McKenzie argued that the extra sprains, cuts and concussions in emergency rooms must be from some unstudied social or public health factor.

Exactly what that factor is -- from increased childhood obesity to competitive training -- sparked a bit of debate among pediatricians. Other doctors questioned whether injuries were actually on the rise or if hospitals were doing a better job of keeping records.

Why ERs Are Reporting More Gym Injuries

"It may just be a matter of better reporting of these injuries," Dr. John Walburn of the University of Nebraska Medical Center wrote in an e-mail to ABC News. "My opinion is, however, that kids are fatter. ... They have less P.E. time than in the past and so are in worse shape and more injury-prone."

Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer of Mattel Children's Hospital at the University of California in Los Angeles agreed.

"I think with so much reduction in P.E. programs in general, kids are out of shape and more likely to get injured when they do play sports or other athletics," Zeltzer wrote in an e-mail to ABC News.

"And too many kids specialize in one sport which places stress on the musculoskeletal system used in that sport," added Walburn.

Whether obesity is behind the increased injuries or not, studies show children today are indeed more likely to be overweight. The percentage of children and teens that are overweight has more than tripled since 1980, according to the 2006 Shape of the Nation Report.

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