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Accidents killing 26% fewer children

The number of children dying in car wrecks, bike crashes and other accidents has fallen 26 percent in the past decade, with the increased use of seat belts and bike helmets getting a lot of the credit.

At the same time, injury rates for sports-related activities such as basketball, football and in-line skating are up, the National Safe Kids Campaign reported as it marked its 10th anniversary.

"We know that prevention works," said Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former surgeon general and current chairman of the campaign. "We can make our world a safer place for future generations to grow up unharmed by the dangers that surround us."

The report coincided with the appearance on Capitol Hill of 21 children who have been designated "safety stars." One, 13-year-old Drew Bartlett of Valley Falls, Kan., took himself and his sister out of their home when he heard a basement smoke alarm. Drew also called 911, although the fire eventually burned down the house.

In 1987, the overall death rate from accidental injuries was 15.56 per 100,000 children 14 and under. By 1995, that figure had fallen to 11.45 per 100,000, a decrease of 26.4 percent, the campaign reported. It based its study on data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the Consumer Product Safety Council, the Transportation Department and other government and private groups.

Despite the overall decline, accidents remain the No. 1 threat to children, killing at four times the rate of cancer, birth defects or homicide. In 1995, accidents claimed 6,600 children ages 14 and under. Motor vehicle deaths account for the greatest accidental loss of life, killing about 1,800 children a year and injuring 290,000.

In 1987, the death rate for motor vehicle occupants 14 and under was 3.37 per 100,000. By 1995, it had fallen to 3.06 per 100,000, a drop of 9.06 percent. Deaths from bicycle accidents showed the greatest decline in the study, falling from 0.75 per 100,000 to 0.44 per 100,000 _ a drop of 41 percent.

Safe Kids said seat belts and bicycle helmets accounted for most of the saved lives. In New Jersey, for example, 41 children ages 13 and younger died in bicycle accidents between 1987 and 1991. The state passed a bicycle helmet law in 1992 and over the next three years, a total of 16 children were killed in bicycle crashes. Fourteen states now have mandatory bicycle helmet laws for children.

The study also found a sharp increase in sports-related injuries. Analysts attributed the growth to the number of children, particularly girls, playing sports.

In 1987, the injury rate per 100,000 children ages 5 to 14 was 373.80 in basketball, 381.51 in baseball and 447.38 in football. By 1995, only the baseball rate had declined. It was 553.78 for basketball, 468.77 for football and 371.47 for baseball.

Statistics for in-line skating injuries were not available until 1993, but they have since showed a sizable increase in the injury rate.

In 1993, the proportion of children ages 5 to 14 injured while in-line skating was 49.91 per 100,000. By 1995, the rate had climbed to 146.19 per 100,000 _ an increase of 192.88 percent.

Child steroid abuse studied

CHICAGO _ Some boys and girls as young as 10 are taking illegal steroids to do better in sports, according to the first survey to look at use of the bodybuilding drugs as early as fifth grade.

The survey found that 2.7 percent of 965 youngsters questioned at four Massachusetts middle schools are using anabolic steroids. Experts said that represents a significant problem.

"We have thought that it has been a problem primarily of high school and college students," said Dr. Robert Blum, professor of pediatrics and director of adolescent health at the University of Minnesota.

Besides building muscles, steroids can harm the liver, stunt growth and cause a host of other long-term ailments.

In some cases, coaches and parents may be buying steroids on the black market and passing them to the child athletes.

"A cycle of steroids costs a few hundred dollars," said University of Massachusetts researcher Avery Faigenbaum, whose study was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. "I don't know a lot of 10-year-olds who have a couple of hundred dollars."