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The top food choking hazards for kids

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  July 29, 2013 07:00 AM

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hard candy.jpgDo you know what food kids most commonly choke on? 

Hard candy.

That's the finding of a study just published in the journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Researchers looked at choking-related visits to the emergency rooms that involved food between 2001 and 2009 for children ages 0-14 years. 

There were a lot of visits: more than 100,000, averaging about 12,000 a year. While most of the children were treated and released, 10 percent were hospitalized. More than a third were children under a year, although the mean age was 4.5 years--so choking isn't just a baby and toddler thing. 

This particular study only looked at non-fatal visits--they didn't look at deaths from choking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year about 57 children 0-14 die from choking on food. And while we talk a lot about preventing choking on toys (we have all those rules and toy labeling), most (59.5 percent) of the choking that happens in kids is on foods, not toys.

Okay. Here were the top five foods that kids choked on:
1. Hard candy
2. Other candy (like gum)
3. Meat
4. Bone
5. Fruits and vegetables

We talk a lot about hot dogs--but they actually were low on the list (number 11, to be exact). Part of the reason may be that the study only looked at non-fatal choking, and if you get a hot dog slice lodged in your throat, it's more likely to kill you. But part may also be that parents and caregivers have gotten the message that hot dogs are dangerous. That's what so much of this is about: getting the message out, so that parents can keep children safe.

The top choking foods were a bit different depending on age, which makes sense. For babies under a year, the top three were:
1. Formula/milk/breast milk (peak age for this was 4 months)
2. Fruits/vegetables
3. Biscuits/cookies/crackers (beware of those baby biscuits--it's easy to get a big chunk off). 

For children 1-2 years, here were the top dangers:
1. Fruits/vegetables
2. Seeds/nuts/shells
3. Other candy (not hard candy--perhaps people usually know better than to give toddlers hard candy)

Children under 2 can bite stuff off--but don't have the molars to really grind that stuff down. That's why it's very important to give them small pieces of soft foods. 

For the 2, 3 and 4-year-olds, hard candy and other candy had the top two spots, with meat or bone in third. These kids have the teeth to grind--but are still figuring out how to chew and swallow effectively and safely.

Along with choosing safe foods and serving them safely,here are some recommendations from the AAP to help prevent choking on food at any age:
  • Encourage children to chew their food well
  • Supervise meals
  • Insist that kids sit down when they eat
  • Don't allow children to run, play or lie down with food in their mouths


Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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