Pediatricians urge choking warning labels for some foods

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation’s largest pediatricians group, is calling for sweeping changes in the way food is designed and labeled to minimize children’s chances for choking.

Choking kills more than 100 U.S. children 14 years old or younger each year, and thousands more — 15,000 in 2001 — are treated in emergency rooms. Food, including candy and gum, is among the leading culprits, along with items like coins and balloons. Of the 141 choking deaths in kids in 2006, 61 were food-related.

Surveillance systems lack detailed information about food choking incidents, which are thought to be un derreported but remain a significant and underappreciated problem, said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Smith is lead author of a new policy report from the pediatrics academy that seeks to make choking prevention a priority for government and food makers. The report is to be released today in the journal Pediatrics.

Doctors say high-risk foods, including hot dogs, raw carrots and grapes, should be cut into pea-size pieces for small children to reduce chances of choking. Some say other risky foods, including hard candies, popcorn, peanuts and marshmallows, shouldn’t be given to young children at all.

Federal law requires choking warning labels on certain toys, including small balls, balloons and games with small parts. Unless food makers voluntarily put more warning labels on high-risk foods, there should be a similar mandate for food, the pediatrics academy says.

The group also urges the Food and Drug Administration to work with other government agencies to establish a nationwide food-related choking reporting system and to recall foods linked with choking.

The academy says the food industry should avoid shapes and sizes that pose choking risks.

Something as simple as making lollipops flat instead of round can make a big difference, said Bruce Silverglade, legal affairs director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which also has lobbied for more attention to choking prevention.

Several efforts to pass federal legislation for labels have failed in Congress.

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