In the United States, more than 100 children under the age of fourteen die each year from choking and many thousands more are treated in emergency rooms. Choking is a leading cause of mortality among children, particularly those three years and under. While objects such as coins and balloons are often involved in infant deaths, the leading causes of choking are food, or food related – such as candy and gum. Out of 141 choking deaths in 2006, 61 were food-related. It is also well known that complete blockage of an airway is a medical emergency and that a partial obstruction can quickly become life threatening if an infant loses the ability to breathe in and out sufficiently. Permanent brain damage can occur in as little as four minutes without oxygen.
Because of this, a policy statement was issued this last week from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. According to the committee, certain characteristics such as shape, size and consistency increase the potential of choking. The committee recommends that choking hazards be addressed through coordinated prevention activities. The Academy suggests that current gaps regarding choking prevention from toys be reevaluated and revised by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, The Child Safety Protection Act and The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. With regard to food related choking, the Academy suggests that US Food and Drug Administration establish similar standards and regulations. These should include:
Warning labels on foods that pose a high choking risk.
A recall of food products that pose a significant choking hazard.
The establishment of a nationwide food-related choking-incident surveillance and reporting system.
Food manufacturers should design new food and redesign existing food to minimize choking risk.
CPR and choking first aid should be taught to parents, teachers and child care providers.
More information can be found at the American Academy of Pediatrics website