Should grapes get choking-hazard labels? Hot dogs get a redesign?

Okay, so this is totally insane. Apparently the American Academy of Pediatrics wants to change the way hot dogs and hard candies are designed and to mandate choking-hazard labeling on “chokeable” foods. A number of things bother me about this, including a couple of the sources reporting this news. (I’m sure a bunch of sources are reporting on this in different ways, but this just happened to be the article I  happened upon without searching.)

The first place I read about this was on BusinessWeek. Okay, one: flat candies? Flat like coins, perhaps? Coins, which accounted for 18 percent choking-related ER trips for kids 1-4? Great idea. Two, here’s a nice quote to scare you out of feeding your kid solid foods (emphasis mine):

I think it’s very reasonable to strengthen regulations to prevent choking injuries for children,” said Dr. Lee Sanders, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “The most common cause of death for kids aged roughly 1 to 5 is choking but it’s also one of the most common reasons for visits to the emergency room and, for kids who don’t die of these injuries, sometimes there are long-lasting injuries or implications,” Sanders said. “It’s a significant public health issue.”

Huh. I wonder where she gets her data? I knew that had to be wrong, so I went to the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control website and ran a query. Turns out that in 2006 (most recent data available), the leading cause of death in children 1-5 (both sexes, all races) is indeed unintentional injury. But when you click through to see where choking falls on this list, it’s not in the top 10. If you drill down into the data, eight percent of deaths were caused by suffocation, the leading cause of which (at 24.5 percent)  is “Inhalation and ingestion of food causing obstruction of respiratory tract.” THE most common cause of death of kids aged 1-5? Motor vehicle accidents.

Now, I am IN NO WAY trying to minimize death by choking, but what I am trying to say is that, as parents (or prospective parents), we deserve accurate reporting when it comes to the health and safety of our children.

I’m also not saying that hot dogs and grapes and Butterfinger BBs are safe for the little ones as-is. I just cut some grapes for Sadie this morning. But these aren’t new, hidden risks. We’ve always known this. Yes, tragedies still happen. Maybe a parent thinks their child is ready for a hot dog before she is. Or maybe the hot dog was cut, but it got stuck anyway. I’m just not convinced that slapping a warning label on foods we already know to be choke hazards is going to make a difference.

Here’s another quote from the BusinessWeek article:

The policy statement called for the government to establish 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.”

How much money will this cost? And what are “emerging food-related choking hazards?” Aren’t we always taking on some amount of choking risk every time we (even as adults) take a bite of anything? But doesn’t the benefit (surviving) outweigh the risk enough not to necessitate governmental surveillance of “chokeable” foods? Where does the line get drawn?

A label I’d like to see on my grapes? How about which pesticides they were sprayed with?

I am sad for the family who recently lost a child that choked on a hot dog. But I am also sad for our culture that seems to believe that every accident can be prevented, if we throw enough money at it, slap the right label on it, scare enough people about it.

3 thoughts on “Should grapes get choking-hazard labels? Hot dogs get a redesign?

  1. Bex

    “But I am also sad for our culture that seems to believe that every accident can be prevented, if we throw enough money at it, slap the right label on it, scare enough people about it.”

    Well said. It’s sad that our children will grow up in such a culture of fear.

  2. Debbie

    Not to mention that perhaps we should be throwing money at what you indicated is the number one cause of death in children…car accidents. It saddens me that these are preventable and approximately 100+ people die each day in car accidents in our country. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where people get in cars and quickly forget that there are other people in the cars around them and have no regard for putting those people and their children at risk. (Sorry after moving to Memphis I’ve been on a huge rant about the drivers and their lack of regard for anyone!)

    1. Brooke Post author

      I hear ya, Debbie! It’s amazing the false sense of security we have about cars. Having had a pretty serious accident back in 2003, I’m pretty uptight about Sadie’s safety in cars (hence all the research into which car seat will fit best in our car).


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