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Riding Toys Blamed for Injuries Sending More Children to EDs

COLUMBUS, OH – As Christmas approaches, children may be dreaming of toys under the tree, but emergency physicians face a different kind of nightmare: the spate of injuries caused by those playthings.

Researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital report that more than 3.2 million children were treated in U.S. emergency departments from 1990 through 2011 for a toy-related injury.

In 2011, for example, a child was treated every three minutes for that type of injury, most of which occurred in children younger than 5.

The study, published online in Clinical Pediatrics and will appear in print in the February issue, found that the rate of injury rose almost 40% during the 22-year period analyzed. Accounting for much of the increase were foot-powered scooters.

"The frequency and increasing rate of injuries to children associated with toys, especially those associated with foot-powered scooters, is concerning," said senior author Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "This underscores the need for increased efforts to prevent these injuries to children. Important opportunities exist for improvements in toy safety standards, product design, recall effectiveness, and consumer education."

Smith noted that likely injuries vary based on children’s age. Those younger than 3 years are at particular risk of choking on small toys and small toy parts. The study reports more than 109,000 cases of children younger than 5 swallowing or inhaling "foreign bodies," which works out to about 14 cases per day.

Injuries involving riding toys increase as children get older. Those types of toys, including foot-powered scooters, wagons, and tricycles, were associated with 42% of injuries to children 5 to 17 years of age and 28% of injuries to children younger than 5, according to the study. Furthermore, injuries with ride-on toys were three times more likely to involve a broken bone or a dislocation than other toys.

The most common way children were injured with toys of all categories include falls (46%) and collisions (22%), the authors report.

The worst offenders in recent years have been foot-powered scooters, according to the article. From 2000, when the scooters first became popular, through 2011, an estimated 580,037 injuries occurred -- about one every 11 minutes. In fact, much of the increase in the overall toy injury rate after 1999 is due to foot-powered scooters, the authors emphasize.

The study suggests children have a reduced chance of having to visit their local ED if parents and caregivers:

  • Follow age restrictions and other manufacturer guidelines for all toys.
  • Examine toys for small parts that could be choking hazards for young children.
  • Use riding toys on dry, flat surfaces away from vehicle traffic.
  • Closely supervise any child who is younger than 8 years of age on a riding toy.
  • Wear helmets, knee pads, and elbow pads on scooters and other riding toys with wheels.
  • Check to see if toys have been recalled.