Stories about: Lois Lee

Potential dangers of last-minute present shopping

The holiday season is in full swing. But even if you’re the proactive type who already has her presents bought, meal planned and cards mailed, it seems like there’s always some last-minute shopping to do. Whether you forgot to get stocking stuffers, a small something for your nephew or your best friend’s new baby, everyone has scrambled for a last-minute present at some point.

In the mad dash to grab those final trinkets, it can be tempting to pick up a toy on the fly at convenient places like the pharmacy, grocery or dollar store. Be careful:  Many of the small and inexpensive toys sold at these locations aren’t the safest. So last-minute shoppers need to pick carefully.

“Generic, off-brand toys might be cheap and easy, but poorly made toys are anything but a good deal for kids,” says Lois Lee, MD, attending physician in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Emergency Department. “Many of these types of toys may have small parts that can break off easily, creating a choking hazard or may contain potentially toxic substances in the paint or plastic.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates many, but not all, toys sold in the U.S. It’s common for off-brand toys to fly under the Commission’s radar. Unregulated toys are at a greater risk of containing choking hazards, unsafe chemicals or failing to adequately identify the appropriate age for the toy’s user. (Remember, even a safe, well-made toy for an 8-year-old can be dangerous in the hands of a toddler—like magnet building toys, for instance.)

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Swallowed magnets attract negative press

Most of us remember magnet sets as toy box and classroom staples when we were growing up. Their ability to engage and teach young users about polarity, electronic currents and positive and negative reactions made them educational as well as fun—a fantastic combination for toy makers looking to market the sets to children and their parents.

But just like those of us who played with them, magnets grew up over the years.

In the later half of the 2000s, a new breed of magnet hit the shelves. Marketed as “desk toys” for adults, these small, extremely powerful earth magnets could be arranged in any number of intricate or interesting sculptures. This new take on an old favorite proved to be a hit with the public, and the desk toys began selling like hotcakes. Even though these were meant for adults, the small, shiny and incredibly powerful magnets also were enticing to young children and quickly began finding their way into the hands of toddlers.

And as any parent will tell you, what finds its way into a toddler’s hand will eventually end up in his or her mouth.

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Should my child still be using a booster seat?

Flickr/ Neeta Lind

Right around the time he turned 7, Jameson Mannix started dreading the ride to school. That was the age he realized he was the only boy in his class still using a booster seat. When he complained, his mother, Rebekah Mannix, MD, MPH, of Boston Children’s Division of Emergency Medicine, explained that without a booster seat the seat belt wouldn’t fit him correctly because his seat belt rested on his throat and stomach instead of lying across his hips and chest. In the event of a crash, she told him, the belt could damage his intestines and spine, which is very dangerous.

But Jameson, like most kids his age, was far more concerned with “fitting in” than a well-fitting seatbelt.

“No matter how much we discussed it, Jameson kept going back to the fact that he was the only one in his class that had to use a booster seat,” Mannix remembers. “I told him that in Massachusetts there was a law requiring kids under 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches to use a booster seat, which meant he technically HAD to use one. That resonated with him a little, but he still fought it almost every morning.”

To help drive home the point, Mannix began researching data on the effectiveness of booster seats and booster seat laws on deaths and injuries related to car accidents, in hopes of strengthening her case for Jameson that booster seat laws for children his age existed for a reason. As she scanned the available data she found plenty of studies linking booster seats to decreased fatalities and injuries, but noticed that laws stating how old or tall children needed to be before they could legally travel without a booster changed from state to state.

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Holiday toy hazards

By Lois Lee, MD, MPH, an emergency medicine physician at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Now that the turkey and pumpkin pie are long gone, children have turned their holiday attention to what they think matters most—toys. But as you glance over those ever- growing wish lists, how can you be sure which toys are safest for your family? Fortunately for the safety conscious gift-giver in all of us, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) recently released Trouble in Toyland, their annual report on toy safety. This is the non-profit consumer organization’s 26th report, which for years has provided safety guidelines for consumers, as well as highlight toys currently on store shelves that could be potentially dangerous. It’s a great guide for parents, but by no means a rulebook; when shopping for your family, keep in mind that a little common sense goes a long way.

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