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CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - Skiers and snowboarders are usually aware of the risks of flying down a snowfield but medical experts have another snow sport often considered tame in their sights -- sledding or tobogganing.
A U.S. study released Monday as southern hemisphere ski resorts hit mid-season found 20,820 sledding-related injuries involving youngsters aged under 19 were treated annually on average in U.S. emergency departments over a 10 year period.
Of these about 34 percent were head injuries, with snow tubes found most likely to lead to traumatic brain injuries, while fractures were the second most common injury at 26 percent.
Children aged four years and younger were found to be four times more likely than older children to sustain a head injury.
Some ski resorts actively discourage sleds or toboggans after reports of a high number of accidents.
"You only have a millimeter of plastic between your spine and the ground," said Susie Diver, communications manager at the Australian resort of Thredbo which removed its toboggan hill several years ago. "It is just not worth the risk."
The latest U.S. study, led by Lara McKenzie of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, looked at sledding-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments from 1997 until 2007.
The study, described as the largest to date on sledding accidents, did not address sledding related fatalities.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found children aged 10 to 14 sustained 42.5 percent of all sledding-related injuries with boys accounting for 59.8 percent of cases.
Most of these injuries, 51.8 percent, happened at a sports or recreation place with collisions causing most of the injuries.
The study found traumatic brain injuries represented 9.2 percent of the total injuries.
McKenzie said she did not know of any places in the United States that have banned sledding.
"Some places in the United States are requiring mandatory helmet use when sledding though," she told Reuters.
She said the large proportion of head injuries suggested that wearing helmets while sledding warrants consideration.
A Consumer Product Safety Commission report has recommended that children aged under 15 should wear helmets while skiing and snowboarding because it could help reduce the number of head injuries by 53 percent.
"A similar reduction may be possible if helmets are used during sledding, and some areas of the United States have sought to make helmet use mandatory for sledders," the researchers noted.
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Patricia Reaney