ATVs are Mary Aitken’s passion. That’s not unusual in a rural state such as Arkansas where children sometimes are riding an all-terrain vehicle while still in elementary school. But you won’t find Aitken, M.D., a professor of pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine, out riding one in the deer woods.
Instead, she and her team have devoted the last nearly 20 years to educating parents so their child doesn’t become one of the 75 to 100 children admitted each year to Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) injured while driving an adult-sized ATV.
That’s just one of the issues for Aitken and her team of researchers and health educators. As director of the Injury Prevention Center at ACH, she sees a great need to reduce the number of unintentional injuries that plague Arkansas children — from motor vehicle crashes to prescription drug overdoses.
Still, her interest in protecting children extends further. Aitken directs the Center for Applied Research and Evaluation (CARE) in the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, which has ongoing research into not only pediatric injury prevention, but child health services and child health, development and nutrition.
While the research centers on children, “there has to be a family approach to everything we do,” Aitken said.
She and other UAMS researchers with CARE are making headway on a number of difficult issues that is improving the health of children in Arkansas and the nation. CARE includes faculty representing pediatrics, epidemiology, medical sociology, health services research, and nutrition.
There has to be a family approach to everything we do.Patrick H. Casey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, is working on food security and access to healthy foods. He is the principle investigator on a multisite research study that has found that about 20 percent of children seen in the ACH Emergency Department have no reliable and routine access to acceptable food. In response, ACH has been providing free lunches to children every day since last summer, totaling more than 15,000.
Judith L. Weber, Ph.D., a professor of pediatrics, is co-directing a research program studying the nutritional status of children who are obese, and working with school-based gardens as a way to educate young people about healthy food.
Dennis Kuo, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, is setting out to develop personal care teams for children with special health needs through the patient-centered medical home concept. He, along with CARE researchers James M Robbins, Ph.D. and Anthony Goudie, Ph.D., have demonstrated cost savings and reduced hospitalization for children with more than one chronic condition when they are served by a specialized, multidisciplinary clinic.
Regarding injury prevention, Aitken said Arkansas has made remarkable progress in having fewer people, especially teens, killed or injured in car crashes.
“Motor vehicle safety in general is a real success story, and Arkansas has seen a dramatic 57 percent reduction in teen driver fatalities over the past several years.”
She attributed it to laws that require young drivers to get more experience before obtaining full driving privileges as well as improvement in car designs and recognition for the need for more supervised training.
And those ATV accidents? The numbers are still discouraging, but she believes there is increased awareness of safety issues.
“We’re getting through to parents that children should not ride adult-sized ATVs and all riders should always wear a helmet. It’s a work in progress.”