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Are you sufficiently worried about the risk of choking? Probably not, pediatricians say.

February 21, 2010 |  9:01 pm

Parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics wants you to know that you probably don’t worry enough about the risk that your children may choke to death.

And you’re not alone. The pediatricians’ group also thinks the federal government isn’t doing enough to protect children from choking hazards either.

Hotdogs It may sound funny, but choking is one of the leading causes of injury and death in children, especially those under age 3 who have yet to develop mature airways and are still mastering the crucial life skills of chewing and swallowing.

An analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 17,537 kids under the age of 15 were brought to hospital emergency rooms after choking in 2001 alone. Almost 60% of those kids choked on food, and about 30% choked on coins or other foreign objects. (In the rest of the cases, the cause was unknown.) In addition, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission documented 449 choking deaths involving non-food items between 1972 and 1992.

But food is the most dangerous threat to children’s airways, according to a 1984 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. That study found that aspirated food caused one death in the U.S. every five days. Hot dogs alone accounted for 17% of those deaths among kids below the age of 10.

In a new policy statement on choking being published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, the academy explains why hot dogs pose a singular danger. A hot dog

“is cylindrical, airway sized, and compressible, which allows it to wedge tightly into a child’s hypopharynx and completely occlude the airway.”

Hot dogs aren’t the only risky foods. Other edible dangers include hard candy, peanuts, nuts and seeds, whole grapes, raw carrots, apples, popcorn, peanut butter chunks, marshmallows, chewing gum and sausages, according to the academy’s Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention.

Pediatricians should do more to make parents aware of the choking risks posed by food, toys and coins. Likewise, food manufacturers should take choking risks into account when they design food products and should redesign existing foods “to avoid shapes, sizes, textures, and other characteristics that increase choking risk to children,” according to the statement.

The academy’s policy statement also includes a long to-do list for government regulators too.

For example, the group says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should:

  • Require manufacturers to label foods that pose the greatest choking risk;
  • Create a surveillance system to track and prevent choking-related injuries and deaths; and
  • Conduct public education campaigns about the choking hazards.

The academy also calls on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to:

  • Work harder to make sure toys sold in vending machines, store bins and online include warnings about choking hazards;
  • Convince toy makers to conduct more effective recalls of dangerous toys;
  • Step up efforts to prevent toys from being sold on eBay and other online auction sites after they have been recalled.

For more information on choking risks, check out this useful guide from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Pediatricians say these hot dogs should come with a warning label. Photo credit: Mark Lennihan/Associated Press


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