Christmas is almost upon us, which means many parents will spend the coming weeks toy hunting for their little ones. But in a new study, researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, warn anyone buying toys for children to be cautious; every 3 minutes, a child in the US is treated in an emergency department for a toy-related injury.

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Foot-powered scooters accounted for most of the 40% increase in toy-related injuries among children between 1990-2011, according to researchers.

The research team – including senior author Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury and Research policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital – analyzed 1990-2011 data from the US National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

During this period, the researchers found that 3,278,073 children and adolescents aged 17 and under were treated in emergency departments for toy-related injuries – the equivalent to one child every 3 minutes – with more than half of these injuries occurring in children under the age of 5 years.

The study – published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics – also revealed that the rate of toy-related injuries among children and adolescents increased by 40% between 1990 and 2011.

The majority of the increase in toy-related injuries is attributable to foot-powered scooters, according to the researchers. From 2000 – when these toys first became popular – through to 2011, they were the cause of 580,037 injuries in children and teenagers – the equivalent to one injury every 11 minutes.

Overall, riding toys – including foot-powered scooters, tricycles and wagons – were the cause of 42% of injuries in children and adolescents aged 5-17 and 28% of injuries in children under 5 years.

The researchers found that injuries among children using riding toys were three times more likely to involve a dislocation or a broken bone than injuries among children using other toys.

The researchers note that younger children, however, are more at risk of choking on small toys and/or small toy parts. Between 1990 and 2011, there were more than 109,000 cases of children under the age of 5 inhaling or swallowing “foreign bodies,” which is the equivalent to 14 cases every day.

Dr. Smith says the team’s findings need to be addressed:

The frequency and increasing rate of injuries to children associated with toys, especially those associated with foot-powered scooters, is concerning.

This underscores the need for increased efforts to prevent these injuries to children. Important opportunities exist for improvements in toy safety standards, product design, recall effectiveness and consumer education.”

The researchers note that playing with toys is important for children’s learning and development, but they add that parents and child caregivers can help children play safely by adhering to the following tips:

  • Follow manufacturers’ age restrictions and guidelines for all toys
  • Assess toys for small parts that could be potential choking hazards
  • Ensure riding toys are used on dry, flat surfaces away from roads and other areas with vehicle traffic
  • Supervise children under the age of 8 years when they are using riding toys
  • Ensure any children using riding toys are wearing helmets, knee pads and elbow pads
  • Frequently check to see if any toys have been recalled by visiting

“A child’s job is play, and toys are the tools,” says Dr. Smith. “We want children to explore, challenge themselves and develop while using those tools safely.”

It is not only child injuries parents should be cautious of when it comes to toys. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study by researchers from the University at Buffalo in New York, NY, which revealed bacteria such as Streptococcus pyogenes – a cause of strep throatcan live for long periods on toys, books and cribs.