The agenda on the website of the British Medical Association still has the 'cycle' debate down for Tuesday but the webcast has been moved to Thursday and a paper agenda circulating at the BMA's Annual Representative Meeting confirms the date switch.

BMA cycle helmet debate moved to Thursday

CTC has provided delegates at the BMA meeting with info-packs on the pros and cons of helmet wearing and the conflicting scientific evidence of whether forcing non-enthusiast cyclists to wear helmets is detrimental to whole population health.

In other words, a few fatal head injuries may be prevented by forcing all cyclists to wear helmets but if many people are put off cycling by having to wear head protection this could lead to many more deaths through encouraging a sedentary lifestyle.

The BMA has made much of its drive to get the government to wake up to the so-called "obesity time-bomb" yet it has constructed the "cycle" debate into a helmet compulsion debate, not leaving time for discussion of the health benefits of cycling.

Addressing the conference this morning, Sir David Carter, chairman of the BMA’s Board of Science, which last November changed the BMA’s position on cycle helmet compulsion from a neutral one to one that championed compulsion, said:

"The BMA has long been concerned with the health of the public and believes that the significant increase in the levels of childhood obesity are a cause for great concern. The health behaviour of the nation’s children needs to be addressed immediately in order to ameliorate the long-term effects of poor nutrition and lack of exercise."

Cycling is a key form of exercise for children but officers working for the Bike It school cycling scheme consistently find that a school policy of helmet compulsion is one of the major disincentives for cycling to school.

Roger Geffen, CTC’s campaigns and policy manager, said he was encouraged by the number of doctors at a fringe meeting at the Annual Representative Meeting on Monday evening. This was organised by CTC and attracted some of the 45 doctor’s who wrote a letter to the BMA’s Board of Science in March, urging the BMA to reconsider its helmet compulsion stance.

The list of docs included many experts, including a senior lecturer in paediatric pathology, a professor of medical statistics, a professor of medicine and metabolism, a consultant psychiatrist, a consultant in emergency medicine, and a consultant in public health.

The non-medical docs included a Fellow in system safety engineering, a PhD in risk assessment and a materials engineer.

Geffen doesn’t believe any minds were changed at the fringe meetings but there were indications that the ‘public health bloc’ is now strongly in favour of further research on the cycle usage impact of helmet complusion. To date, the most vociferous proponents of cycle helmet compulsion have been accident and emergency doctors who, by default, see the worst examples of injuries sustained in cycle-related crashes and falls.

However, these A&E doctors also see the worst examples of injuries sustained in motoring-related crashes yet do not campaign for helmet-compulsion for motorists, complain cycle helmet compulsion critics.

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