Don't Let Johnny Choke on His Food

Food choking rates among children increased recently but adults can help prevent incidents

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Children love to put things in their mouths, which is a common cause of choking. But food is supposed to go in children's mouths — and food can cause choking too.

A recent study found the rates of nonfatal choking on food among kids has increased over the past decade.

Common foods that children choked on were hard candy, other types of candy, meat, bones, fruits and vegetables.

The study's authors suggested adults learn how to respond if a child chokes on food.

The authors also noted parents should be aware of guidelines and practices that can reduce a child's risk of choking on food.

"Learn what to do if a child is choking."

This study, led by Meyli M. Chapin, of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, aimed to learn about the rates among children of choking on food and what foods were involved.

The researchers focused only on non-fatal choking incidents related to food. They reviewed data for 2001 through 2009 in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System–All Injury Program.

From 2001 through 2009, the researchers estimated that 111,914 children aged 14 and younger received treatment for choking in emergency departments throughout the US.

This number translates to an annual rate of about 12,435 children per year who choke on food (and survived).

This rate is an increase over the 10,438 cases that were reported to be annually treated in a 2001 study.

Another way to describe the rate is that approximately 20 children out of every 100,000 experienced a choking incident each year.

Only 10 percent of the children who came to the ER were hospitalized. The rest were treated and released.

The average age of children treated for choking on food was 4.5 years old.

Just over a third of the cases (38 percent) involved children aged 1 year or younger. Children aged 4 years or younger accounted for 62 percent of the choking incidents.

Boys comprised a little more than half (55 percent) of the choking cases.

The most common food involved in children's choking was hard candy. The 16,168 cases involving hard candy found in this study equated to 15.5 percent of the overall choking incidents.

Other types of candy accounted for 13 percent (13,324 cases) of the total choking incidents.

Another 12 percent of children choked on meat, and 12 percent choked on bone. Fruits and vegetables were also cited as common foods kids choked on.

These food types are different from the most common ones linked to choking in 2001. At that time, hot dogs, seeds, nuts, candy and certain fruits and vegetables were the most common culprits leading children to choke.

What has not changed is the need for caregivers to supervise young children while eating, according to Tracie Newman, MD, a pediatrician with Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota, and a dailyRx expert.

"This is an important topic, as more than 50 percent of choking incidents in children involve food and choking is entirely preventable," Dr. Newman said. "I usually counsel parents of infants and young toddlers to avoid small or spherical foods such as peanuts, grapes, raw carrots and hot dogs."

She said that young children should never be given small, hard candy or gum.

"Supervision during meal time is key," Dr. Newman said. "Children should never play or run while eating."

Dr. Newman and the researchers of this study both recommended parents, babysitters and other caregivers be aware of recommendations from organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"For example, the AAP recommends that children under 5 years of age not be given hard candies or gum and that raw fruits and vegetables be cut into small pieces," the authors wrote.

"In addition, the AAP recommends that young children should be supervised while eating, should eat sitting down and should never run, walk, play or lie down with food in their mouth," the authors wrote.

Caregivers should also be aware of what to do if a child starts choking.

"If a choking incident does occur, caretakers can be prepared by being familiar with and practicing choking-related rescue maneuvers," the authors wrote.

This study was published July 29 in the journal Pediatrics.

The research was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 25, 2013
Last Updated:
July 28, 2013