Cheerleading safety efforts have led to modest reductions in the number of serious injuries in recent years, according to a new report about college and high school sports and cheerleading mishaps.

But cheerleading continues to cause more serious and deadly injuries by far than other female sports.

Researchers have long known how dangerous cheerleading is, but records were poorly kept until recently.

An update to the record-keeping system last year found that between 1982 and 2007, there were 103 fatal, disabling or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes, with the vast majority (67) occurring in cheerleading.

The next most dangerous sports: gymnastics (nine such injuries) and track (seven).

Today, the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released its 26th annual report on the topic. The latest figures are from the 2007-2008 academic year for college and high school sports, male and female. The report defines catastrophic injuries as any severe or fatal injury incurred during participation in the sport.

The new numbers are for the 26-year period from the fall of 1982 through the spring of 2008:

  • There were 1,116 direct catastrophic injuries in high school (905) and college sports (211).
  • High school sports were associated with 152 fatalities, 379 non-fatal injuries and 374 serious injuries. College sports accounted for 22 fatalities, 63 non-fatal injuries and 126 serious injuries.
  • Cheerleading accounted for 65.2 percent of high school and 70.5 percent of college catastrophic injuries among all female sports.

The number of cheerleading injuries fell slightly in the 2007-08 academic year.

"Progress has been slow, but there has been an increased emphasis on cheerleading safety," said the study's author Frederick O. Mueller. "Continued data collection on all types of cheerleading injuries will hopefully show that these safety measures are working to reduce injuries."

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