Don’t run with food in your mouth! And other choking prevention tips

Candy Can BoyLois Lee, MD, MPH works in Children’s Emergency Department Injury Prevention Program

Hot dogs, popcorn, gum, candy, marshmallows—These may seem like fun delicious foods to most people, but to young children under the age of 3 they are potential choking hazards that can even lead to death. These foods are about the size of a young child’s airway and can cause a blockage which can be fatal if the child can’t breathe.

Choking from food, coins or small toys is a leading cause of death and disability in children 3 years or younger. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement this month on the prevention of choking among children. They recommend that food manufacturers should design foods to avoid choking risks in young children. They also recommend routine choking-prevention counseling to parents of young children.

Children are at increased risk from choking because of several factors.

  • First of all, young children like to put things in their mouths—even if it is not food.
  • Even if children are eating food given to them, their ability to chew and swallow is less coordinated than an adult’s – so they are still at risk of choking.
  • Also, a child’s airway is smaller in size than an adult’s, and they also don’t have the ability to cough as forcefully to dislodge a foreign object if it gets in their airway.

When my children were younger than 3-years old, they were not allowed to eat popcorn, gum or hard candy because of the risk of choking. I never even dreamed of letting them eat a marshmallow. And if they had carrots, grapes or hot dogs, we cut them into pea sized pieces. They were, and still are, only allowed to eat food if they are sitting still since they might accidentally choke on food if they are running around.

In addition to foods, parents need to be wary of toys with small parts or parts that can break off and become a choking hazard. If you have an older child with toys with small parts, you need to make sure that these toys are out of reach of children less than 3-years old. Balloons and coins are also choking hazards.

So as a parent, what can you do to prevent choking in your child?

  • Avoid foods like peanuts, gum, round candies and popcorn for children less than 3-years old.
  • Make sure other foods like hot dogs, carrots or grapes are not cut into a round circle or given whole, but that they are cut up for your young child.
  • Learn first aid and CPR so in the event of a choking situation you can aid the child.

NECN interviews Children’s Mark Waltzman, MD about the new AAP recommended guidelines.

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