March 7, 2006 -- Baby walker injuries are way down -- but the walkers should be on the way out, a new study concludes.
Invented some 250 years ago, baby walkers make infants mobile -- too mobile, pediatricians say. From 1990 through 2001, baby walker injuries sent nearly 200,000 U.S. babies to emergency rooms. Three out of four of these babies fell down stairs. Most suffered head wounds. Some died.
In 1994, parents got an alternative: stationary activity centers that let kids bounce and swivel and tip without going anywhere. And in 1997, all U.S. walkers had to meet new design standards. Either they had to be too wide to fit through a standard doorway, or they had to have a braking feature that stops the walker at the edge of a step.
Both strategies worked, find Brenda J. Shields and Gary A. Smith, DrPH, of the Center for Injury Research at Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
"There was a 76% decrease in the number of infant-walker-related injuries that were treated in U.S. emergency departments from 1990 through 2001, with a marked decrease occurring between 1994 and 2001," Shields and Smith write.
The study appears in the March issue of Pediatrics.
Most New Injuries From Old Baby Walkers
The drop in injuries beginning in 1994 shows that parents were turning away from walkers in favor of stationary activity centers, Shields and Smith say. Until then, there had been some 23,000 baby-walker-related injuries each year.
And after 1997, a lot fewer babies were falling down stairs in their walkers -- suggesting that the design changes had an effect. In fact, most of the recent stairway falls happened with older walkers that did not meet the new standard.
But why take any risk?
The researchers note that Canada now bans baby walkers. Canadian consumers face fines of up to $100,000 or six months in jail if found in possession of a baby walker, they note.
"Therefore, the U.S. government should follow the lead of the Canadian government and ban the sale, importation, and advertisement of mobile infant walkers in the United States to prevent additional infant-walker-related injuries from occurring to young children," Shields and Smith argue.
In this, they have powerful support. The American Academy of Pediatrics continues its call for a baby-walker ban.