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Experiences key to injury prevention for teens

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Reuters Health

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Injury prevention programs for teens that evoke a strong emotional response and involve learning through experience, rather than classroom instruction, are more likely to get results, Canadian researchers say.

When evaluating an injury prevention program, the researchers found that the knowledge about injury that high school students gained through lectures and discussions didn't last, but the impact of meeting with a peer who had suffered a brain or spinal cord injury did persist -- and changed how they felt about their own vulnerability.

"All the didactic teaching in the classroom -- even meeting medical professionals -- that stuff fades with them over time," Dr. Najma A. Ahmed from St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto told Reuters Health. "What stays with them over time is actually meeting an injured peer."

Most injuries are avoidable, Ahmed noted in an interview, and many kids wind up getting hurt due to poor understanding of their own risk. To better understand how injury prevention programs affect teens' beliefs and perceptions about their own behavior, she and her colleagues had 262 high school students complete an injury prevention program called "Think First-Party Later."

In addition to classroom work, the program included a tour of an intensive care unit, where students met a young person who had suffered a mild traumatic brain or spinal cord injury.

The study revealed that students have a "flawed sense of invincibility" and often overestimate their driving skills, the investigators report in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

"We also uncovered themes related to their belief that they would be preferentially 'rescued' or 'saved' by the health care system if they were severely injured."

Study participants also reported that meeting with an injured peer increased their own sense of vulnerability.

This kind of exposure is essential for helping to change young people's attitudes about their own risks, Ahmed said. She and her colleagues argue that injury prevention approaches now in use don't do enough to change young people's beliefs in their own invulnerability.

"If we wish to achieve harm reduction from injury in this high risk population," they conclude, "relevant and effective messaging must be embedded longitudinally into health and driver education curricula, beginning in the formative primary school years through to the completion of high school, because knowledge and interest fade with time."

SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Surgery, August 2008.

Reuters Health

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