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Children's Health

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Hot Dogs, Marshmallows, Candy Choking Kids

Pediatricians Urge Warning Labels on Foods Risky to Kids

Lessons From ‘Gel Candy’

Smith, who co-authored the AAP policy statement, says the FDA needs to take a more active role in protecting children from manufactured foods that pose a risk.

He directs the Center for Injury, Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

He cites a 2002 case where the FDA seized candy from a California manufacturer after several choking deaths were linked to the product in one California community.

The candies were thick fruit-flavored gels sucked from little cups about the size of a single-serve coffee creamer. The gels contained an ingredient called konjac, which does not dissolve easily in the mouth.

Smith says the FDA became aware of the candy only after a local paper broke the story of the deaths and a U.S. congressman introduced legislation to require warnings on the candies.

“The problem is there really isn’t a mechanism for the FDA to respond to this kind of problem,” he says. “It was a big deal for them to step in.”

The AAP policy statement recommends giving FDA the authority to:

  • Recall foods that pose “a significant and unacceptable choking hazard to the public”
  • Establish a nationwide surveillance and reporting system for food choking injury
  • Evaluate foods and require manufacturers to put warning labels on those that pose a high choking risk to children
  • Educate the public about the risk of food-related choking death among children, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, AAP and other groups.

Parents Need to Recognize Risk

Parents of young children need to recognize that choking is something that can happen to their child, and take steps to minimize the risk, Smith says.

That means cutting hot dogs lengthwise and in quarters, cutting grapes in quarters, and grating carrots instead of serving them to their children in coin shapes or sticks, he says.

And it is especially important to keep an eye on children when they are eating. Walking, running, talking, laughing and eating quickly all increase choking risk.

Pediatric emergency medicine specialist Richard Lichenstein, MD, tells WebMD that foods such as peanuts and sunflower seeds can also get lodged in the lungs, causing chronic bronchial infections.

Lichenstein is an associate professor in the Department of Pediatric and Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“This is not uncommon, but it is often missed,” he says. “And while it is not immediately life threatening, it can cause real problems.”

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