Saturday, July 13, 2013

Could bike helmets make Pittsburgh kids fat?

Once you read this post, you will either agree with me that bike helmets could make kids in Pittsburgh fat or you will think I'm a fanatic.

Hear me out.

Bike helmets are a hard and fast rule in our family. No arguments. Here are two reasons why:

1. When I was in high school, a young man from my neighborhood was struck by a car, just a few houses down from my home, and killed. He was unfortunately riding in the middle of the road with headphones on but most importantly he was not wearing a helmet. If he had, he might have survived.

A little crooked but getting better. 
I saw him laying on the road, covered in a sheet. His death led to the passage of mandatory helmet laws for riders under 16.

2. When my oldest son was about 2 years old and on a run with my husband, the front wheel came off the jog stroller and the stroller flipped. My son's head crashed into the sidewalk and my husband crashed into the stroller. Thankfully, miraculously, both of them only had minor injuries. We were incredible lucky and from that moment on each one of our boys wore a helmet in the stroller.

Helmets go on heads. Children's Hospital of UPMC here in Pittsburgh agrees and every summer they roll out the Hard Head Patrol.

Here's the deal:

Any child spotted without a helmet will be given a coupon for a free helmet and fitting that can be redeemed at various community locations. The Hard Head Patrol will reward kids wearing helmets with Cookie Cards from Giant Eagle. If the helmet is worn incorrectly, staff will make adjustments.

The program works. There's been a decrease in trauma injuries. And I love that they reward children who are wearing their helmets.

But I don't like that the reward is a Cookie Card from Giant Eagle. I'm a Giant Eagle customer and sure, the cookies are tasty. But when we're dealing with increasing rates of childhood obesity in this country, can't we reward kids who are out being active and riding bikes (with helmets) with a coupon for a free piece of produce? Why not an apple? An orange? My kids would love to hit the produce section and pick out their own zucchini or eggplant or crunchy baby carrots!

I'm not claiming my kids eat perfectly but this seems like a great opportunity to do two good things for Pittsburgh's kids. They are so close to really getting it right...but not quite.

It just seems contradictory to me. We want our kids to be active and eat healthy. We want them to be safe and wear helmets.

Rewarding kids for wearing helmets is a great idea but we have to stop thinking of junk food as a reward. Let's start valuing fresh produce and healthy choices as real rewards - real food that we are lucky to eat.

Who's with me?