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Nelson’s Public Health Perspective on Warrior Girls

09/20/2008

by Toben F. Nelson, Ph.D. — Assistant Professor, Epidemiology & Community Health

Warrior Girls tells compelling stories of exceptional young women as they struggle with serious sports injuries—stories that need to be told. The author is sensitive to the hard-won gains that have opened doors for young women to experience the benefits of sport. We cannot go back. Higher sport injury rates among girls is not evidence of weakness nor an indication they should not play. But that does not excuse serious efforts at understanding the etiology and distribution of sports injury, with the goal of prevention. Sokolove does raise important questions about sport injuries, but the prescriptions he offers are preliminary and unsatisfying. Should we push young women to play hard? Should we allow them to push themselves? Do young women lack the self-awareness to know when they have gone too far? Such questions send us backward, not forward.

Though the personal stories Sokolove highlights are compelling, they restrict our vision of the full problem—if we use only the comparison of girls to boys, we remain limited in our overall understanding. While it might be tempting to wonder about the physical attributes of young women that may make them susceptible to injury, we also need to ask questions about the conditions that contribute to injury rates among young men. Fundamental inequities still exist between sport opportunities for boys and girls. Do differences in field conditions, types of equipment or coaching styles contribute to higher injury rates?

Some excellent work has been done to study sports injury using NCAA Injury Surveillance data. Although these data are the best available, they are incomplete, and as a result, reliable answers about adequate prevention remain elusive. Expanding the set of questions we ask—and collecting the right data to answer them—will go far in furthering our understanding of the complexities surrounding this issue. Sports participation can be a safe and rewarding pursuit. We should continue to strive to protect young women (and men) from the risks they encounter in sport through rigorous science.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 10/15/2009 11:36 pm

    nice article you have here.

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