NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Cheerleading is not all pom-poms and glitter with a U.S. study finding that most catastrophic sports injuries among high school and college athletes occurred on the sidelines of the big games.
Researchers from the National Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found that schoolchildren these days were more likely to get hurt in gym class than they were a decade ago.
The study was based on data from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which tracks sports and recreation-related injuries treated at a sample of 100 U.S. hospital emergency departments.
Figures showed that the number of injuries had jumped 150 percent in 2007 to 62,408 from an estimated 24,347 physical education-related injuries in 1997, with the increase seen for both boys and girls and across all age groups.
About one in five of the injuries were strains or sprains of the legs, while about one in seven were broken arms, or arm sprains or strains.
Six sports accounted for 70 percent of injuries -- running, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, and gymnastics.
But cheerleading was found to be the leading cause of catastrophic injuries - those usually involving spinal cord damage - among high school and college athletes.
High school cheerleading accounted for about 73 such injuries, according to the report by The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.
The study, published in Pediatrics, said a lack of supervision and school nurses may be part of the reason behind a 150 percent jump in physical education (PE)-related injuries.
Researcher Dr. Lara McKenzie told Reuters Health that fewer schools have full-time nurses on staff to help hurt the youngsters and schools may also be packing more children into gym classes, making it harder for teachers to supervise them.
Just 36 percent of schools that require PE classes set a maximum student/teacher ratio, McKenzie and her colleagues noted.
That means that "more equipment, more gym teachers, more training, more nurses -- all of those may be beneficial to help reduce PE injuries," she said.
But the benefits of gym class - which has become one of the main strategies for fighting obesity among young people - far exceed any risks, added McKenzie.
"The long-term effects of inactivity really outweigh the relatively minor costs of a PE-related injury," she said.
Reporting by Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith