In June, we noted that a picture of Presidential candidate John Kerry riding a motorcycle while not wearing a helmet was featured on the front page New York Times. Interestingly, the next day, the Times had an article on the importance of motorcycle helmets (without mention of Kerry's error the previous day), noting that, "The federal government is eager to reduce the carnage, but beyond advocating helmets, it is not sure how." The prominent photograph the day before provided an opportunity to point out the obvious: that one good way to "reduce the carnage" would be for public officials themselves to act safely and wear helmets, ensuring protection for themselves and perhaps acting as good role models for other riders.
Yesterday's New York Times featured another troubling photograph of Senator Kerry, this time riding a bicycle while not wearing a helmet (he actually had a helmet with him, but it was hanging from the handlebar of the bike as he rode).(1) And again, the juxtaposition of image and message begged for comment. The photograph appeared in an article discussing the candidate's proposals for expanding health care coverage ("Bush Campaign Unleashes a New Assault on Kerry's Health Care Proposals", p. A18). It is unfortunate that in this case, Senator Kerry's concern about the population's health did not extend to ensuring protection of his own health by simply wearing a bicycle helmet. The act of adopting bicycle helmet use, if done by all bicyclists in America, could prevent one bicycle-related head injury every four minutes and certainly save the country a tremendous amount in health care costs. While Senator Kerry focuses on presenting his ideas about improving health care in America, he should keep in mind that as a highly visible public figure, he may also have influence on the health of Americans as a model for health behaviors - such as helmet use - as well.
Rivka Weiser is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health.
(1) For a photograph similar to the one in the New York Times, click here.