Hot dogs, lemonade, and apple pie may conjure up images of the quintessential summer day in this country, but that image may soon be modified, if some child health experts have their way. A leading group of pediatricians is pushing for hot dog manufacturers (as well as makers of other foods of concern, including candy) to modify the shape of their product and add new labels warning consumers of the dangers of choking, especially in children.

Choking is in fact the leading cause of death and injury in young children, and the most common reason for emergency room visits for that age range. In fact, experts estimate that a child dies, on average, every five days from this hazard, and many of those who survive can experience long-lasting injuries or complications. The problem is of particular significance in children under the age of 4 years, with the most common choking objects being food, coins and toys. In an effort to help reduce the incidence of choking, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) looked into the problem.

Doctors have determined that not enough attention is given to foods whose shape predisposes them for getting stuck in someone’s throat. This finding is especially striking in light of the fact that there is a high degree of regulation concerning dangerous toys, yet there is little to none when it comes to food, which children are far more likely to put their mouths.

With this in mind, the AAP has recommended that:

  • foods that represent significant choking hazards be recalled
  • foods with a high choking hazard come with warning labels
  • risky foods be redesigned to minimize the risk of choking

Ironically, it seems that foods commonly thought of as being “kid-friendly” might actually pose the greatest risk. These include grapes, popcorn, nuts, and of course, hot dogs, which account for nearly 17% of all asphyxiation deaths, the biggest source of any food. Many doctors consider the hot dog to be the perfect design to plug a child’s passageway because it can wedge itself in so tightly, thus completely shutting down the airway.

It is also vital that moms and dads familiarize themselves with the dangers relative to the unique qualities of every child, including the developmental and behavioral stage that they are in. Furthermore, there are a number of steps that parents can take to reduce the risk of choking and choking death, which include:

  • encourage kids to eat slower and chew their food thoroughly, with parents leading by example
  • learn first aid for choking and CPR
  • avoid foods that are choking hazards, including small candies, hot dogs, and raw carrots
  • for children under the age of 4, cut food into smaller pieces
  • keep choking hazards such as coins and small toys away from children
  • pay attention to warning labels on toys
  • do not leave high risk children unattended

If you have questions or concerns, speak with your pediatrician. For information on the CPR, speak with your doctor and visit the website for the University of Washington School of Medicine. To find out more about the Heimlich Maneuver, visit the homepage for the Heimlich Institute.