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Injuries Jump Along with Bounce House Popularity

< Nov. 28, 2012 > -- They range in design from castles to desert islands to birthday cakes, but the object of these inflatables is the same: Give kids a fun place to bounce. Researchers caution, though, that too often children end up injured.

A study published online this week in the journal Pediatrics says that on average, 31 kids a day are taken to the emergency room for bounce-related injuries.

"If this was an infectious disease, we'd call it an epidemic and it would be on the front pages all over the country," says study co-author Gary A. Smith, M.D., Dr.P.H., who is also director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Jumping for fun

The inflatable bounce houses - also called moon walks, moon bounces, and space walks - allow kids to jump up and down, trampoline-style, in an enclosed area. They are increasingly popular at birthday parties and other kids' events.

For the study, Dr. Smith and his colleagues looked at records for hospital ERs and estimated that nearly 65,000 youngsters were injured in the inflatable bounce houses from 1990 to 2010. The rate of injury during that time period rose 15-fold, with the most rapid boost in the last few years of the study.

The ER patients were an average 7.5 years old. The most common injuries were fractures, at 28 percent, and strains or sprains, at 27 percent. Concussions and cuts were more common among boys than girls, and 3 percent of the injured children had to be admitted to the hospital.

The injuries often followed falls - often a child falling on another youngster - or collisions, Dr. Smith says. In some cases, kids broke their forearm while trying to stop their fall.

Similar cautions

Richard M. Schwend, M.D., at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, says the dangers of the bounce houses are like those of trampolines.

"Similar to trampolines, the potential for more severe injury is high when children are attempting stunts, or if a smaller child is being bounced by a larger child or children," Dr. Schwend says. "I have seen cervical spine injury and paralysis when a child jumps headfirst and lands on the head."

Dr. Smith has this advice for parents: If you choose to let your kids play in bounce houses, make sure that they are at least 6 years old. An adult should supervise the activity at all times and allow only one child inside the bounce house at a time. If that's not feasible, children should be of similar age and size, he says.

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Online Resources

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American Association of Pediatrics - Trampolines: What You Need to Know

CDC - Child Injury

Pediatrics - Pediatric Inflatable Bouncer-Related in the United States, 1990-2010