Friday, February 01, 2002

Church campaign encourages safety

State copies effort to raise seat-belt use

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Laced among sermons aimed at saving souls, ministers at 14 African-American churches started preaching last year about saving lives by wearing seat belts and putting children in car seats.

        The resulting improvement in car safety habits among churchgoers was so powerful that Ohio public safety officials plan to use the Cincinnati effort as a model for spreading public health messages to African-Americans statewide.

        “This is the only program I've seen that has gotten this kind of success. Nothing else has come close,” said Anita Watkins, a planner with the Ohio Department of Public Safety who coordinates car safety promotions.

        After starting 16 months ago, the Youth Injury Prevention program designed by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center announced these results Thursday:

        • A 100 percent increase in child safety seat use among churchgoers.

        • A sharp increase in adult seat belt use, from 58.3 percent to 74.4 percent.

        The program is the brainchild of Dr. Victor Garcia, trauma service director at Children's, and Anita Brent- ley, the injury prevention program director. It was created in response to alarming statistics about childhood injury in Hamilton County.

        While African-Americans account for about 23 percent of the county population, they suffer 36 percent of childhood injuries serious enough to require hospital admission, Dr. Garcia said. Even worse, African-Americans account for 65 percent of pediatric deaths, many of which involve car wrecks.

        Children's Hospital and many other agencies have long promoted car seat use. But for years, the message hadn't captured attention among many African-Americans. A serious commitment from several black churches changed that, Dr. Garcia said.

        The program involved blending injury prevention messages into Sunday school lessons, sermons to adults, teen group presentations, and a play based on a real traffic tragedy.

        Beyond all that, the project involved volunteers in church parking lots checking cars. If people weren't wearing seat belts, they were reminded.

        If they couldn't afford a car seat, one was provided. If people had trouble installing them, hospital-trained staff did the job.


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