DEAR DATA DOG: What's going to ruin my Fourth of July picnic this year?

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And happy Independence Day to you too, Eeyore. Surprisingly, although picnicking is America's fourth most popular outdoor recreational activity, there is no federal agency charged with tracking Independence Day picnics (not yet, anyway). The ranking comes courtesy of Outdoor Recreation In America 1999: The Family and the Environment, a survey conducted by Roper Starch for the American Recreation Coalition ( With 32 percent of respondents having dined al fresco, the popularity of picnicking trails only walking (42 percent), swimming (40 percent), and driving for pleasure (35 percent). The four most important reasons people take part in outdoor recreation? Have fun (83 percent), relax (80 percent), health and exercise (79 percent), and so the family can be together (74 percent). Here are just a few ways of ensuring that your picnic is no fun, full of stress, and dangerous to you and your family.

Getting drunk is a surefire method. A 1998 Department of Transportation survey found that on July 4th (the third most traveled holiday of the year behind Thanksgiving and Christmas), 64 percent of all adults who attend an Independence Day gathering consume alcohol ( gov/affairs/1998/dot12298.htm). Trying to drive after imbibing at a picnic made Independence Day the leader in alcohol-related fatalities among holidays, according to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (

But staying on the wagon is no guarantee of a good time. Judging by an August 1999 poll conducted by the American Dietetic Association and the ConAgra Foundation, a lot of picnickers should pack a first aid kit in the basket of goodies ( One of the reasons: men who cook.

According to the survey, men tend to grade themselves as average or below average when it comes to outdoor food safety, and with good cause. For example, 44 percent admitted to using the same utensils for both raw and cooked meat without cleaning them in between. In the interest of family safety, if Dad is wearing an apron emblazoned with "Kiss the Cook," it should also bear the disclaimer "But don't touch the food."

The ADA also discovered that although 60 percent of respondents correctly assumed that warm summer weather accounts for most household food-borne illness, the same people failed six out of 10 questions about summer food safety. For instance, 71 percent kept food in the trunk of their cars rather than the air conditioned interiors. The most popular mistake: not using a thermometer to test whether their red meat, pork, poultry, or egg dishes are fully cooked. And since more than 80 percent listed meats or poultry as their favorite picnic food (the top three being barbecued chicken, hamburgers, and steak), a lot of outdoor celebrants may well end up spending indoor time at the emergency room.

Drunk driving, food poisoning - how else can you hit the hospital after a picnic? Set off some firecrackers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in 1999, 6,300 fireworks-related injuries occurred during the month surrounding Independence Day ( Only 29 percent of these injuries involved illegal fireworks. The largest group of victims, comprising 40 percent, were 5 to 14 years old; 30 percent were between 15 and 24 years, and 75 percent of all victims were male. The highest rate of injury occurred in boys between 10 and 14 years old. Although the majority of fireworks-related injuries were attributed to firecrackers, those cute little sparklers accounted for the vast majority of injuries to cute little children under 5 (

And then there's sunburn. A 1997 American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) survey found that 90 percent of parents acknowledge that exposure to the sun during childhood increases the risk of skin cancer. Yet, only 68 percent make sure their kids wear sunscreen at the beach ( The result? More than 33 percent of respondents reported that their children got a sunburn during the summer. And a 1998 AAD study discovered that only 40 percent of Americans think it's very important to protect themselves from the sun ( Only 54 percent wear some sort of sunscreen during the summer, and 84 percent believe protection is necessary only if they intend to be outside "for a long period of time." While 76 percent do wear sunglasses, only 36 percent cover the rest of their heads with wide-brimmed hats. Perhaps that indicates a widespread fear of overaccessorizing.

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