Why Stairs Might Be a Bigger Hazard for Young Women

FRIDAY, July 28, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to falling down stairs, young women are more prone to take a tumble than their male counterparts.

According to a new study, this is because they are more likely to be distracted or to wear impractical footwear.

Going down a staircase while talking or texting on the phone or engaging in other distractions is an invitation to take a header, researchers report. Women were more likely to be talking to another person than men while on stairs in the study.

"When we found that women were talking to a friend more than men, it was like a groan because we’re confirming the stereotype, which you never want to do," researcher Shirley Rietdyk, a professor of kinesiology at Purdue University, told NBC News. "But when we only looked at people who were walking with someone else, there was no difference in the rate of talking, so it’s not that women talk more than men -- it’s that they’re more likely to be with a friend than a man is."

Falling on the stairs is more likely to result in injuries than other falls. In the United States, children under the age of 3, young adults in their 20s and adults over 85 are those most at risk for falling down stairs, the researchers said.

For the study, published online July 26 in the journal PLOS ONE, Rietdyk's team collected data on 2,400 young adult men and women.

The investigators identified eight risky behaviors: not using handrails, not watching the stairs, wearing sandals, flip-flops or high heels, having in-person or smartphone conversations, using an electronic device, having hands in pockets, holding something and skipping steps.

Women were much less likely to use the handrails, more likely to be holding something, more likely to be talking and more likely to wear sandals and heels. Women were less likely to skip steps and more likely to look at the stair tread than men.

"The young women we observed demonstrated more risky behaviors than the young men; future studies should also examine physiological differences that may lead to greater injury risk, such as differences in strength or reaction time," the researchers said in a journal news release.

A 2021 study from the same researchers found that stairs accounted for 12% of the falls participants encountered.

"If you think about how much time you actually spend on stairs in the day, it’s going to be less than 1%," Rietdyk said. She added that may make stairs "the most common serious hazard that we regularly deal with in our daily lives."

More information

For more on falling on stairs, see Utah State University.

SOURCES: PLOS ONE, news release, July 26, 2023; NBC News

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