The number of food-related injuries in the US caused by children choking on food is on the rise, prompting better guidelines on the prevention of choking, reveals a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers analyzed data on non-fatal food-related choking among US children aged 14 years or under between 2001 and 2009. The researchers are from the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and worked alongside colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance system over the 9-year period, and found that 111,914 children aged 0-14 years visited US hospital emergency departments as a result of non-fatal food choking.

  • There was an equivalent every year of 12,435 children turning up to ER with non-fatal food chocking, with an average age of 4.5 years.
  • The study showed that children under 1 year of age accounted for 37.8% of the cases.
  • There was an almost equal split between the numbers of boys and girls presenting with choking emergencies.
  • More than 60% of the choking cases occurred in children 4 year of age and under.

The results showed that the majority of children (87.3%) were treated and released from hospital, while 10% were hospitalized. The remaining 2.6% left hospital with medical advice.

The following popular foods accounted for more than half of the choking cases:

  • Hard candy (15.5%)
  • Other types of candy (12.8%)
  • Meat other than hot dogs (12.2%)
  • Bone (12%)

It was also revealed that other “high-risk foods” such as hot dogs, seeds and nuts were more likely to result in hospitalization.

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Has this boy bitten off more than he can chew?

Dr. Gary Smith of the Center of Injury Research and Policy, says, “These foods have high-risk characteristics that make them more likely to block a child’s airway or make them more difficult to chew, which can lead to more serious choking events.”

Although there are choking prevention guidelines in place when it comes to food, the study authors say there is concern that organizations such as the Consumer Standard Safety Commission (CSSP), who provide strict legislation within non-related food choking, do not adopt the same legislation with food products.

The study authors say that these results show more focus is needed on improved surveillance, food labeling and design, with education strategies to help prevent childhood choking.

Dr. Gary Smith says:

Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission has well-established surveillance systems in place, as well as legislation and regulations to protect children from nonfood-related choking, no similar monitoring systems, legislation, or regulations currently exist to address food-related choking among children.

Implementing improved monitoring of food-related choking incidents, placing warning labels on foods that pose a high choking risk, changing the design of foods consumed by children to reduce the risk of choking, and developing public awareness campaigns to educate parents about the danger of food-related choking among children could all help reduce the number of choking episodes in the United States.”