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Choking Deaths: Are Parents or Food to Blame?

By Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger
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The call from American pediatricians for actions to prevent children from choking on foods such as hot dogs has led to reactions ranging from killer hot dog jokes to blaming the problem on parents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says choking is a leading cause of injury and death among children. Food, toys and coins account for most of the choking-related events because young children put objects in their mouths as they explore new environments.

In 2000, 160 children ages 14 years or younger died from an obstruction of the respiratory tract due to inhaled or ingested foreign bodies. Of these, 41 percent were caused by food items. For every choking-related death, there are more than 100 visits to U.S. emergency departments. In 2001, an estimated 17,537 children 14 years or younger were treated in emergency departments for choking episodes (Centers for Disease Control).

Since 1960 toys have been regulated to prevent child choking incidents but food has not been regulated. The AAP wants to make choking prevention a priority for parents, government agencies and food makers through a new policy statement in the March issue of Pediatrics. Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus,Ohio is the lead author.

Hot dogs have gotten the most attention. "If you were to take the best engineers in the world and asked them to design a perfect plug for a child's airway, you couldn't do better than a hot dog," Smith said. "It's the right size, right shape. It's compressible so it wedges itself in. When they're in that tight [it's] almost impossible, even with the correct training and the correct equipment, to get out. When it's wedged in tightly, that child is going to die."

The policy statement calls for a "mandatory system . . . to label foods with appropriate warnings according to their choking risk, to conduct detailed surveillance and investigate food-related choking incidents, and to warn the public about emerging food-related choking hazards.

Add a Comment1 Comments

Great article, Pat! I heard a National Public Radio (NPR) story about this the other day, and I'm particularly fascinated with all the hubbub over it.

In the NPR story, a hot dog manufacturer was interviewed. He stated that it is impossible to redesign the hot dog in a different shape because of the consistency of a hot dog will not hold in (say) a pattie shape. It is because of the emulsifier(?) used to squeeze the contents into the casing, regardless of if the casing is natural, or some produced product.

He said that if you want to make hot dogs safer, and can't be bothered with cutting them up into smaller less 'chokey' pieces, eat baloney instead because it's made of the same stuff without the casing.

With two small boys, food safety is an important issue as the figures in your article clearly state it should, and it does take diligent parenting to assure safe eating at home and if you allow snacks in the car. For that reason, my 22mo. old is still not allowed to eat fruit snacks at all, no matter how he cries. It isn't an easy job, but as a parent, you have to make those choices. It's fine to say that manufacturers need to be more sensitive to issues of their customers, and the government also plays a part in regulating, but in the end, it is the parents who are ultimately responsible for the safety of their family. Everything else is just today's chatter in my opinion.

February 25, 2010 - 11:00am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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