Thursday, January 13, 2005

Do cycle helmets work?

"Examination of cyclist casualty data for Great Britain, Greater London and Cambridge shows no evidence of any reduction in serious injuries despite a large increase in helmet wearing by cyclists since the mid 1980s.

If cycle helmets are effective in reducing head injury, it seems reasonable to expect that the reductions in injuries would be reflected in the general casualty statistics, particularly in places where helmet use has become significant. There is no indication that this is the case.

With more than 2 out of 5 cyclists now wearing helmets in London, it is difficult to see what greater use of helmets would be necessary to achieve noticeable casualty reductions, particularly if the more optimistic predictions for the effectiveness of helmets are correct.

The results nonetheless are consistent with other research in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, none of which has found real-world evidence of any significant reduction in cyclist head injuries in large population samples.

It would seem prudent to re-assess the claims being made for the role of cycle helmets in road injury reduction, to ensure that the information being given to the general public is not misleading."

Trends in cycling casualties in Britain with increasing helmet use

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Phone alarm

'Mobile phones tumour risk to young children', says The Times (London), reporting on new concerns that radiation from phones may pose a health risk.

A report from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), entitled Mobile Phones and Health 2004, suggests that while there is no hard evidence of harm from phones or base stations, a precautionary approach to phone use by children is best. Parents are advised not to give phones to young children, and to encourage children to text rather than talk if they must use a phone. Professor Sir William Stewart, chairman of the NRPB, said: 'I don't think we can put our hands on our hearts and say mobile phones are safe.'

The press release accompanying the report states that 'there is no hard evidence at present that the health of the public, in general, is being affected adversely by the use of mobile phone technologies...'.

In other words, nobody knows of anyone harmed by mobile phones and the evidence that there might be some harm is inconsistent, contradictory, applies to older phone models and very heavy users, or does not relate to humans. Nonetheless, we are told we need to take precautions.

Why? Mobile phones have provided a novel and convenient means of communication. Any tiny risk associated with them would be far outweighed by the benefits they provide. But this latest scare demonstrates how afraid we have become of any risk - particularly when it relates to our children. There is no useful purpose served by scaring parents in this manner.

Nor does it help, as some have done, to raise the possibility of security as a reason why children should have phones. 'Stranger danger' is just as much a misplaced panic as phone-induced cancers.

Children don't need phones, but they can be fun - and if parents want to give them to children they can do so with a clear conscience. The only dangers will be pointless gossiping and wasted money.