A recent study from APHA’s American Journal of Public Health sheds new light on public bike-share programs. The study, which compared 10 cities in the United States and Canada with and without bike-share programs, found that cities with bicycle shares are correlated with an increased proportion of head injuries among bicycle-related injuries.

Appearing in cities from Washington, D.C., to Minneapolis, the public bike-share programs make bicycles available on a rental basis and increase options for access to physical activity within urban areas. The study found that in cities with bike-share programs, the proportion of head injuries among bicycle-related injuries increased from 42.3 percent before the programs began to 50.1 percent after. In comparison cities without sharing programs, the proportion of head injuries among bicycle-related injuries did not change significantly.

So what does all of this mean?  According to the study, the majority of bike-share programs in North America do not provide helmets. While the study did not examine whether injured bicyclists were wearing helmets —or whether they were bike-share users at the time of their injuries — the researchers concluded the safety devices are important in sharing programs because of their ability to save lives. They called on programs to implement helmets in their planning and funding.

Since June 19, when the study was released, coverage of the study has produced much chatter about the presence of helmets in public bike-share programs.

A Washington Post blogger raised concerns. “A few weeks ago, in honor of annual Bike to Work day, I asked a simple question about why those terrific bike share programs don’t provide helmets to rides,” the newspaper reported. “Even though a large body of research shows that bike helmets prevent head injuries, no U.S. bike share programs provide helmets.”

Seattle, on the other hand, touted its plans to be the first U.S. city to offer helmets with its bike-share program. Under Seattle’s mandatory helmet law, bike-share participants will have the opportunity to rent helmets for $2,  KPLU reported.

Still others question the findings of the study. Do the results truly indicate an increased risk of head injuries when it comes to bike-share programs? And how do helmets fit in?

However the results are interpreted and acted upon, public bike-share programs remain a helpful asset to the public’s health. And like any wellness opportunity, there are likely methods to improving them.

“Promotion of helmet use through integrated rental programs should be a critical element of all public bicycle share programs,” the authors of the study wrote. “This would provide users with the opportunity to reap the benefits of the (programs) while contributing to their safety.”

To read the latest in public health research or more about this study, visit the American Journal of Public Health online.