Your kids may have already presented you with holiday wish lists chock full of puppies, ponies, superheroes, and princesses. Before Santa Claus loads up his sleigh, though, he may want to consider a study just released by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
The new report, published in Clinical Pediatrics, found that in 2011 a child was treated in U.S. emergency rooms every three minutes for toy-related injuries — with more than half of those injuries occurring in kids younger than 5 years old. About 3.3 million children were treated for toy-related injuries from 1990 through 2011, but the annual number of injuries has climbed 61 percent over those years, from about 121,000 in 1990 to more than 195,000 in 2011. The rate of injuries per 10,000 children rose nearly 40 percent over those years.
Foot-powered scooters account for much of the increase, according to the authors. Injuries associated with "ride-on toys" like scooters, tricycles, and wagons increased by about 74 percent over the time period studied. Overall, those toys accounted for about 35 percent of injuries and 42.5 percent of hospital admissions. Injuries associated with those toys were also three times more likely to involve a broken bone or dislocation than those from other toys.
The chart below, taken from the Clinical Pediatrics report, compares the injury rates including and excluding scooters.
You can see here that the injury rate associated with scooters surged after models like the Razor scooter became immensely popular in 1999 and 2000.
"Increasing public awareness of these injuries, outreach campaigns stressing the use of protective equipment and age-appropriate use, as well as passing of the fad, all likely played a role in the marked decline in ride-on toy-related injuries in the several years following their sudden spike," the authors write. "However, since 2005, ride-on toy-related injuries are again on the rise, suggesting that an amplification of prevention efforts is needed to prevent further loss of earlier public health gains."
The study, which used data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance database, also found that the rates and types of injuries varied considerably by age and gender. Kids under 3 years old are at a far greater risk of choking on small toys or toy parts, while older children are more likely to get injured on riding toys. The injury rate peaked at age 2, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly two-thirds of the injuries in the study were suffered by boys. (Also unsurprisingly, boys were nearly two times more likely than girls to be injured by a toy weapon.) More than 80 percent of the injuries happened at home.
The study says an estimated three billion toys are sold in the U.S. each year, and many of the injuries reported could be prevented through safer design. A group called World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc., or W.A.T.C.H., last month issued its annual list of 10 worst toys, a selection that was singled out for potential hazards but isn't intended to be a comprehensive list of dangerous toys on the market. The 2014 list included:
- "Air Storm Firetek Bow" by Zing
- "Ziggle" four-wheeled cycle by Radio Flyer
- "Catapencil" by Toysmith
- "Alphabet Zoo Rock & Stack Pull Toy" by Skip Hop
- "SWAT Electric Machine Gun" by Junxing Toys Industrial Co.
- "Wooden Instruments" sold at Wal-Mart
- "Bottle Rocket Party" by Norman & Globus (ScienceWiz)
- "Lil' Cutesies-Best Friends" doll by JC Toys Group
- "True Legends Orcs Battle Hammer" sold at Toys R Us
- "Colored Hedgehog" plush toy sold at Toys R Us
In the meantime, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital suggests these tips for shoppers looking to buy toys:
- Take a close look at the toy and its label. Check for small parts that could be choking hazards and follow the age guideline set by the manufacturer, which reflects the safety risks as well as developmental suitability.
- Buy a helmet to go with any riding toy. And don’t forget knee and elbow pads. Children younger than 8 years old should be closely supervised — and they should ride toys only on dry, flat surfaces and away from traffic.
- Be careful with batteries and magnets. Only buy toys with battery compartments that have child-resistant closures or require a screwdriver to open. Steer clear of magnets, which can be harmful if more than one is swallowed.
- Check Recalls.gov to avoid any toys that have been recalled as a result of safety issues.
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