Background Bicycling is a common form of recreation and physical activity for adolescents. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the use of helmets to decrease the chance of injury during wheeled activities. Despite these recommendations, helmet-use rates in the United States are low (i.e., 5%–20%). One reason may be that adolescents fear that helmet-use may be viewed negatively by peers. The purpose of the study was to examine adolescent attitudes toward helmet use among hypothetical peers and determine whether parent and peer helmet-use influenced adolescents’ decisions to wear helmets.
Methods Participants were 40 males aged 10–14 (M = 12.03, SD = 1.48) from a school in the Midwestern United States. The sample included African American (40%), Caucasian (30%), Bi-racial (18%), and Hispanic (5%) youth. All youth reported riding bicycles on a weekly basis. Youth were presented with a series of photographs of same-age, same-sex peers riding bicycles with or without helmets. Perceptions of the hypothetical peer were measured using the Revised Adjective Checklist.
Results The majority of youth (60%) reported “never” or “rarely” wearing a helmet. Participants selected significantly more positive adjectives (e.g., smart, healthy, honest) to describe the helmeted hypothetical peer (M = 27.32. SD = 3.78) than the peer without a helmet (M = 24.66, SD = 5.75), t(39) = 2.60, p = .01; moderate effect size d = 0.55. Youth’s self-reported helmet-use was significantly higher when their parents required helmet-use, r(38) = 0.63, p < 0.01, and when friends wore helmets, r(38) = 0.65, p < 0.01.
Conclusions Youth in this study were more likely to wear helmets when friends wore helmets and when parents required helmet use. Contrary to expectations, participants in this study viewed a hypothetical peer wearing a helmet more favourably than a peer who was not wearing a helmet. Future research should examine the disconnect between adolescents’ favourable perceptions of helmet-use and their low rates of use.
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